The Impossible Dead
‘He’s not here,’ the desk sergeant said.
‘So where is he?’
‘Out on a call.’
Fox stared hard at the man, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. The sergeant was one of those old-timers who reckoned they’d seen it all and faced most of it down. Fox glanced at the next name on his list.
‘Out on the call with DI Scholes.’
Tony Kaye was standing just behind Fox’s left shoulder. An instant before the words were out of his mouth, Fox knew what his colleague was going to say.
‘This is taking the piss.’
Fox turned to give Kaye a look. News would now travel through the station: job done. The Complaints had come to town, found no one home, and had let their annoyance show. The desk sergeant shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying not to seem too satisfied at this turn of events.
Fox took a moment to study his surroundings. The notices pinned to the walls were the usual stuff. It was a modern police station, meaning it could just as easily have been the reception area of a doctors’ surgery or DSS office, as long as you disregarded the sign warning that the Alert Status had been lifted from LOW to MODERATE. Nothing to do with Fox and his men: there’d been reports of a blast in woodland outside Lockerbie. Kids, probably, and a good long way from Kirkcaldy. Nevertheless, every police station in the country would have been notified.
The button on the counter had a hand written sign next to it saying Press For Attention – which was what Fox had done three or four minutes ago. There was a two-way mirror behind the counter, and the desk sergeant had almost certainly been watching the three arrivals – Inspector Malcolm Fox, Sergeant Tony Kaye and Constable Joe Naysmith. The station had been told they were coming. Interviews had been arranged with DI Scholes, and DSs Haldane and Michaelson.
‘Think this is the first time we’ve had this stunt pulled on us?’ Kaye was asking the desk sergeant. ‘Maybe we’ll start the interviews with you instead.’
Fox flipped to the second sheet of paper in his folder. ‘How about your boss – Superintendent Pitkethly?’
‘She’s not in yet.’
Kaye made a show of checking his watch.
‘Meeting at HQ,’ the desk sergeant explained. Joe Naysmith, standing to Fox’s right, seemed more interested in the leaflets on the counter. Fox liked that: it spoke of easy confidence, the confidence that these officers would be interviewed, that delaying tactics were nothing new to the Complaints.
The Complaints: the term was already outdated, even though Fox and his team couldn’t help using it, at least among themselves. Complaints and Conduct had been their official title until recently. Now they were supposed to be Professional Ethics and Standards. Next year they’d be something else again: the name Standards and Values had been mooted, to nobody’s liking. They were The Complaints, the cops who investigated other cops. Which was why those other cops were never happy to see them.
And seldom entirely cooperative.
‘HQ means Glenrothes?’ Fox checked with the desk sergeant.
‘How long to drive there – twenty minutes?’
‘Provided you don’t get lost.’
The phone on the desk behind the sergeant started to ring. ‘You can always wait,’ he said, turning to lift the receiver, keeping his back to Fox as he started a muffled conversation.
Joe Naysmith was holding a pamphlet about home security. He plonked himself on one of the chairs by the window and started reading. Fox and Kaye shared a look.
‘What do you reckon?’ Kaye asked at last. ‘Whole town’s out there waiting to be explored…’
Kirkcaldy: a coastal town in Fife. Kaye had driven them there in his car. Forty minutes from Edinburgh, most of them spent in the outside lane. As they had crossed the Forth Road Bridge, they’d discussed the long queue of traffic on the opposite carriageway, heading into the capital at the start of another working day.
‘Coming over here, stealing our jobs,’ Kaye had joked, sounding his horn and giving a wave. Naysmith seemed to be the one with the local knowledge.
‘Linoleum,’ he’d said. ‘Used to be what Kirkcaldy was famous for. And Adam Smith.’
‘Who did he play for?’ Kaye had asked.
‘He was an economist.’
‘What about Gordon Brown?’ Fox had added.
‘Kirkcaldy,’ Naysmith had confirmed, nodding slowly.
Now, standing in the police station’s reception area, Fox weighed up his options. They could sit and wait, growing restless. Or he could phone his boss in Edinburgh with a complaint of his own. His boss would then call Fife HQ and eventually something would happen – the equivalent of a wee boy running to his daddy when the big kid’s done something.
Fox looked at Kaye again. Kaye smiled and batted Naysmith’s leaflet with the back of his hand.
‘Break out the pith helmets, young Joe,’ he said. ‘We’re heading into the wild.’
They parked the car on the seafront and stood for a few moments staring out across the Firth of Forth towards Edinburgh.
‘Looks sunny over there,’ Kaye complained, buttoning his coat. ‘Bet you wish you’d worn more than a donkey jacket.’
Joe Naysmith had become inured to comments about his latest designer buy, but he did turn the collar up. There was a fierce wind blowing in from the North Sea. The water was choppy, and puddles along the promenade offered evidence that the tide was prone to break over the sea wall. The gulls overhead looked to be working hard at staying airborne. There was something odd about the design of this waterfront: almost no use had been made of it. Buildings tended to face away from the view and towards the town centre. Fox had noted this elsewhere in Scotland: from Fort William to Dundee, the planners seemed to deny the existence of any shoreline. He’d never understood it, but doubted Kaye and Naysmith would be able to help.
Joe Naysmith’s suggestion had been a beach walk, but Tony Kaye was already heading for one of the wynds leading uphill towards Kirkcaldy’s shops and cafes, leaving Naysmith to dig out eighty-five pence in change for the parking. The narrow main street had roadworks on it. Kaye crossed to the other side and kept climbing.
‘Where’s he going?’ Naysmith complained.
‘Tony has a nose,’ Fox explained. ‘Not just any old cafe will do.’
Kaye had stopped at a doorway, made sure they could see him, then headed inside. The Pancake Place was light and spacious and not too busy. They took a corner table and tried to look like regulars. Fox often wondered if it was true that cops the world over tended to act the same. He liked corner tables, where he could see everything that was happening or might be about to happen. Naysmith hadn’t quite learned that lesson yet and seemed happy enough to sit with his back to the door. Fox had squeezed in next to Kaye, eyes scanning the room, finding only women intent on their conversations, past being interested in the three new arrivals. They studied their menus in silence, placed an order, and waited a few minutes for the waitress to return with a tray.
‘Good-looking scone,’ Naysmith commented, getting to work with his knife and the pat of low-fat spread.
Fox had brought the folder with him. ‘Don’t want you getting too comfortable,’ he said, emptying its contents on to the table. ‘While the tea’s cooling, you can be refreshing your memories.’
‘Is it worth the risk?’ Tony Kaye asked.
‘A smear of butter on the cover sheet. Won’t look exactly professional when we’re doing the interviews.’
‘I’m feeling reckless today,’ Fox countered. ‘I’ll take a chance
With a sigh from Kaye, the three men started reading.
Paul Carter was the reason they’d come to Fife. Carter held the rank of detective constable and had been a cop for fifteen years. He was thirty-eight years old and came from a family of cops – both his father and an uncle had served in Fife Constabulary. The uncle, Alan Carter, had actually made the original complaint against his nephew. It involved a drug addict, sexual favours, and turning a blind eye. Two other women then came forward to say that Paul Carter had arrested them for drunken behaviour, but offered to drop any charges if they would be ‘accommodating’.
‘Does anybody actually ever say “accommodating”?’ Kaye muttered, halfway down a page.
‘Courtroom and newspapers,’ Naysmith replied, brushing crumbs from his own copy of the case notes.
Malcolm Fox had some of those newspaper reports in front of him. There were photos of Paul Carter leaving court at the end of a day’s testimony. Pudding-bowl haircut; face pitted by acne. Giving the photographer a hard stare.
It was four days since the guilty verdict had been delivered, along with the sheriff’s comment that Detective Constable Carter’s own colleagues seemed ‘either wilfully stupid or wilfully complicit’. Meaning: they’d known for years Carter was a bad cop, but they’d protected him, lied for him, maybe even attempted to falsify witness statements and put pressure on witnesses not to come forward.
All of which had brought the Complaints to town. Fife Constabulary needed to know, and in order to reassure the public (and more importantly, the media) that the investigation would be rigorous, they had asked a neighbouring force to run the inquiry. Fox had been given a copy of Fife Constabulary’s Suspension Policy and Suspension Process Considerations, along with the Chief Constable’s written report outlining why the three officers under investigation were still at work, this being ‘in the best interests of the force’.
Fox took a sip of tea and skimmed another page of notes. Almost every sentence had been underlined or highlighted. The margins were filled with his own scribbled queries, concerns and exclamation marks. He knew most of it by heart, could stand up and recite it to the cafe’s customers. Maybe they were gossiping about it anyway. In a town this size, sides would have been taken, opinions rigidly formed. Carter was a slimeball, a sleazebag, a predator. Or he’d been stitched up by a low-life junkie and a couple of cheap dates. Where was the harm in anything he’d done? And what had he done anyway?
Not much, except bring his police force into disrepute.
‘Reminds me a bit of Colin Balfour,’ Tony Kaye said. ‘Remember him?’
Fox nodded. Edinburgh cop who liked to visit the cells if women were being held overnight. The prosecution against him had faltered, but an internal inquiry had seen him kicked off the force anyway.
‘Interesting that the uncle’s the one who spoke up,’ Naysmith commented, drawing them back to the current case.
‘But only after he retired from the force,’ Fox added.
‘Even so… Must have stirred up the family a bit.’
‘Could be some history there,’ Kaye offered. ‘Bad blood.’
‘Could be,’ Naysmith agreed.
Kaye slapped a hand down on the pile of papers in front of him. ‘So where does any of this get us? How many days are we going to be shuttling backwards and forwards?’
‘As many as it takes. Might only be a week or two.’
Kaye rolled his eyes. ‘Just so Fife Constabulary can say they’ve got one bad apple and not a whole cider factory?’
‘Do they make cider in factories?’ Naysmith asked.
‘Where do you think they make it?’
Fox didn’t bother joining in. He was wondering again about the main player, Paul Carter. There was no use trying to interview the man, even though he was available. He’d been found guilty, held in custody, but had yet to receive a sentence. The sheriff was ‘deliberating’. Fox reckoned Carter would go to jail. Couple of years and maybe a listing on the Sex Offenders Register. He was almost certainly talking to his lawyers about an appeal.
Yes, he’d talk to his legal team, but not to the Complaints. The man had nothing to gain by grassing up his mates at the station, the ones who’d stood by him. Fox couldn’t offer him any kind of deal. The most they could hope for was that he would let something slip. If he talked at all.
Which he wouldn’t.
Fox doubted anyone would talk. Or rather, they’d talk but say nothing worth hearing. They’d had plenty of warning this day was coming. Scholes. Haldane. Michaelson. The sheriff had singled them out for their conflicting or confused testimony, their muddying of the water, their memory lapses. Their immediate boss in CID, Detective Chief Inspector Laird, had escaped criticism, as had a detective constable called Forrester.
‘Forrester’s the one we should be talking to,’ Kaye said suddenly, breaking off from his argument with Naysmith.
‘Because her first name’s Cheryl. My years of experience tell me that makes her a woman.’
‘And if one of her colleagues was a sex pest, surely she’d have had an inkling. Surrounded by blokes circling the wagons when the rumours start flying… She’s got to know something.’ Kaye rose to his feet. ‘Who’s for a refill?’
‘Let me check first.’ Fox took out his phone and found the number for the station. ‘Maybe Scholes is back from his wee jaunt.’ He punched in the number and waited, while Kaye flicked the back of Naysmith’s head with a finger and offered his services as a barber.
‘Hello?’ It was a woman’s voice.
‘DI Scholes, please.’
Fox looked around the cafe. ‘I’m from the Pancake Place. He was in earlier and we think he left something.’
‘Hold on, I’ll put you through.’
‘Thank you.’ Fox ended the call and started gathering up all the paperwork.
‘Nicely played,’ Tony Kaye said. Then, to Naysmith: ‘Back into your donkey jacket, Joe. Let’s get that jackhammer started…’
Detective Inspector Ray Scholes ran a hand through his short black hair. He was seated in the station’s only interview room. Fox had offered him any location he liked, as long as it had a table and four chairs.
‘And a socket,’ Joe Naysmith had added. The socket was for the electrical adaptor. Naysmith had set up the video camera and was now just about finished with the audio recorder. There were two microphones, one pointed at Scholes and one centred between Fox and Tony Kaye. Kaye had his arms folded, a scowl on his face. He’d already told Scholes how much they’d enjoyed his little ruse.
‘I don’t call official police business a “ruse”,’ Scholes had shot back at him. ‘On the other hand, this almost certainly qualifies as a waste of time.’
‘Only “almost”?’ Malcolm Fox had responded, busying himself with the paperwork.
‘All set,’ Naysmith was now telling them.
‘Happy to start?’ Fox asked Scholes.
Scholes was nodding when his phone sounded. He answered it by identifying himself as ‘Ray Scholes, public enemy number one.’ Sounded like his girlfriend on the other end, asking him to pick up something for dinner. But she knew about the Complaints.
‘Yeah, they’re here,’ Scholes drawled, eyes on Fox. Fox drew a finger across his throat, but Scholes was in no hurry. When he eventually ended the call, Fox asked if the phone could be switched off. Scholes shook his head.
‘Never know when something important’s going to crop up.’
‘How long before it rings again?’ Fox asked. ‘Will it be her every time, or have you split the task between your friends?’ Fox looked towards Tony Kaye. ‘What is it usually – five minutes or ten?’
‘Ten,’ Kaye stated definitively.
Fox turned his attention back to Ray Scholes. ‘I doubt there’s anything you can do that hasn’t been tried a hundred times. So why not just switch the phone off?’
Scholes managed a bit of a smile as he complied, Fox thanking him with a nod.
‘Was DC Carter a good cop, in your opinion?’ Fox then asked.
‘We both know he’s not coming back.’
‘How come you hate cops so much?’
Fox stared at the man across the desk. Scholes was in his mid-thirties but looked younger. A freckled face and milky-blue eyes. An odd image flashed up in Fox’s memory: a big bag of marbles he’d owned as a boy. His favourite had been a pale-blue one, its flaws only visible when you peered at it, turning it slowly between your fingers
‘That’s an original question,’ Tony Kaye was answering Scholes. ‘I doubt we’re asked that more than a few dozen times a month.’
‘I just don’t know why you’d want to punish everyone who’s ever worked with Paul.’
‘Not everyone,’ Fox corrected him. ‘Just the names mentioned by the sheriff.’
Scholes snorted. ‘Call that a sheriff? Ask anyone on the force – Colin Cardonald’s just the man to stick the knife in. Number of cases where he’s tried everything possible to swing it the defendant’s way
‘There’s always one,’ Kaye conceded.
‘Was there any history between Sheriff Cardonald and DC Carter?’ Fox asked.
‘And between the judge and yourself?’ Fox waited, but no answer came. ‘Are you saying that Sheriff Cardonald singled out certain names because of a grudge?’
‘A complaint was made about Paul Carter almost a year back, wasn’t it? His own uncle said Carter had admitted taking advantage of a woman. The claim was investigated…’ Fox made show of looking for the relevant page in his notes.
‘Nothing ever came of it,’ Scholes stated.
‘Not straight away, not until Teresa Collins decided she’d had enough…’ Fox paused. ‘Did you know Carter’s uncle?’
‘He was a cop.’
‘That’s a yes, then. Why do you think he said what he said?’
‘Yet another grudge? And the three women – the original complainant plus the two who came forward later – more grudges? Lot of grudges piling up against your friend, the “good cop” Paul Carter.’ Fox leaned back in his chair, feigning interest in some of the pages of text. The newspaper cuttings were in full view on the desk. Kaye and Naysmith knew that silence was useful sometimes, and that when Fox leaned back like that it wasn’t because he’d run out of questions. Naysmith checked the equipment; Kaye studied his wristwatch.
‘Is that the starters finished, then?’ Scholes asked eventually. ‘Are we moving on to the meat and veg?’
‘Meat and veg?’
‘Where you try taking me down with Paul. Where you make out I lied in court, tried putting the fear on the witnesses…’
‘Teresa Collins states that you were in the car with Carter when he pulled up beside her and told her he’d be coming to her house later that day for sex.’
‘When she made her complaint, you phoned her and tried to get her to withdraw it.’
‘Her mobile phone had your number in it. Date, time and duration of call.’
‘As I said in court, it was a mistake. How long did the call last?’
‘Right – soon as I realised, I hung up.’
‘Why did you have her number?’
‘It was on a bit of paper on one of the desks in the office.’
‘You got curious, so you called the mystery number?’
Tony Kaye was shaking his head slowly, making evident his disbelief.
‘So you deny telling her to…’ Fox glanced at his notes again, ‘“back the fuck off”?’
‘Did you spend time with Carter when the two of you were off duty?’
‘Few beers now and then.’
‘And clubs… away days to Edinburgh and Glasgow.’
‘It’s no secret.’
‘That’s right. It all came out in court.’
Scholes snorted. ‘Cops stick together and like a drink now and then – hold the front page.’
‘Carter was a DC, you’re a DI.’
‘So he’d never been promoted. Lowest rank in CID, and he’d been a cop as long as you.’
‘Not everybody wants promotion.’
‘Not everybody merits it,’ Fox stated. ‘Which was it with Paul Carter?’
Scholes was opening his mouth to answer when the interview room door opened. There was a uniformed woman there.
‘Sorry to interrupt,’ she said, not looking sorry at all. ‘Thought I’d better say hello.’ She saw that Naysmith was switching off the recorders. Reaching the desk, she introduced herself as Superintendent Isabel Pitkethly. Fox stood up with a certain reluctance and offered his hand for her to shake.
‘Inspector Malcolm Fox,’ he stated.
‘Everything all right?’ Pitkethly looked around the room. ‘Got everything you need?’
She was almost a foot shorter than Fox but much the same age – early forties. Collar-length brown hair, blue eyes glinting behind her spectacles. She wore a regulation white blouse with epaulettes at the shoulders. Dark skirt falling to just above her knees.
‘Ray behaving himself?’ She gave a nervous laugh, and Fox could see that the past few weeks had left their mark on her. She probably saw herself as captain of a tight ship, and now the structure had been damaged from within.
‘We were only just getting started,’ Tony Kaye said, not bothering to disguise the complaint.
‘Funny, I thought we were on to cheese and biscuits,’ Scholes countered.
‘DI Scholes does actually have to be at another meeting in five minutes,’ Pitkethly said. ‘Procurator Fiscal has a case to prepare…’
Scholes wasted no time getting to his feet. ‘Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure.’
‘How soon can we have him back?’ Fox asked Pitkethly.
‘Unless the Fiscal has other ideas.’ Scholes had switched his phone back on and was checking for messages.
‘Couple of missed calls?’
Scholes looked at Fox and smiled. ‘How did you guess?’
Pitkethly seemed to be wondering the same thing. ‘Can I have a word in my office, Inspector Fox?’
‘I was about to suggest it,’ Fox answered.
A minute later, Kaye and Naysmith were alone together in the interview room.
‘Do I pack it all up?’ Naysmith asked, his hand resting on the tripod.
‘Better had. Can’t trust Scholes and his crew not to come in here and wipe their cocks over everything…’
‘Sit down,’ Pitkethly instructed from behind her desk. Fox stayed standing. The desk was empty. There was another at a right angle to it, and this second desk boasted a computer and busy-looking in-tray. The window had a view on to the car park outside. There were no knick-knacks on the sill; no photos of loved ones. The walls were bare except for a No Smoking sign and a year-planner.
‘Been here long?’ Fox asked.
‘And before that?’
He could see she was annoyed: somehow he was the one getting to ask the questions. But politeness demanded an answer.
‘Wouldn’t it be quicker just to look at my file?’
Fox raised both hands by way of apology, and when she nodded towards the chair he decided not to refuse a second time.
‘I’m sorry I wasn’t here this morning,’ she began. ‘I was hoping the two of us might have had this discussion before your work began.’ It sounded like a prepared speech, because that was what it was. Pitkethly probably had friends at HQ in Glenrothes, and had gone there for a bit of advice on dealing with the Complaints. Fox could have written the script for her. Most cases, someone up the chain of command would invite him to their office and tell him the same thing.
This is a good crew here.
We’ve got work to do.
It’s in nobody’s interest that officers are kept back from their duties.
Naturally, no one wants a whitewash.
But all the same…
‘So if any concerns could be brought to me in the first instance
…’ Colour had risen to Pitkethly’s cheeks. Fox wondered how elated she’d been when promotion had come, when she’d been offered her own station to run. And now this.
She’d been told what to say, but hadn’t had time for a rehearsal. Her voice drifted off and she started to clear her throat, almost bringing on a fit of coughing. Fox liked her all the better for this apparent awkwardness. He realised she’d maybe called in no favours, but had been summoned to Glenrothes.
Here’s what you have to get through to him, Superintendent…
‘Can I get you a drink?’ he asked. ‘Some water?’ But she waved the offer away. He leaned forward a little in his chair. ‘For what it’s worth,’ he said, ‘we’ll try to be discreet. And quick. That doesn’t mean we’ll be cutting corners – I promise you we’ll be thorough. And we can’t give you any tip-offs. Our report goes to your Chief Constable. It’s up to him what he does with it.’
She had managed to compose herself. She was nodding, her eyes focused on his.
‘We’re not in the business of making waves,’ he went on. This, too, was a speech he’d made many times, in rooms much like this. ‘We just want the truth. We want to know procedures were followed and no one thinks they’re somehow above the law. If you can help us get that message across to your officers, that would be great. If there’s a room we could use as a base, so much the better. It needs to be lockable, and I’ll need all the keys. I’m hoping we’ll be out of your hair in a week.’
He decided not to add ‘or two’.
‘A week,’ she echoed. He couldn’t decide if this was coming as good or bad news to her.
‘I was told this morning that DS Haldane’s on sick leave…’
‘Flu,’ she confirmed.
‘Flu, palsy or plague, we need him for interview.’
She nodded again. ‘I’ll make sure he knows.’
‘A bit of local knowledge might be useful, too – just where we can get a decent lunch or sandwich. But nowhere your officers would go.’
‘I’ll have a think.’ She was getting to her feet, signalling the end of the meeting. Fox stayed in his seat.
‘Did you ever have an inkling about DC Carter?’
It took her a few moments to decide whether she was going to answer, at the end of which she shook her head.
‘None of the women working here…?’ he pressed.
‘Gossip in the toilets… warnings of wandering hands…’
‘Nothing,’ she stated.
‘Never any doubts?’
‘None,’ she said firmly, crossing to the door and holding it open for him. Fox took his time; gave her a little smile as he passed her. Kaye and Naysmith were waiting for him at the end of the corridor.
‘Well?’ Kaye asked.
‘Much as expected.’
‘Michaelson might be around – want him next?’
Fox shook his head. ‘Let’s go back into town, grab a bite, drive around a bit.’
‘Just to get a feel for the place?’ Kaye guessed.
‘Just to get a feel for the place,’ Fox confirmed.
Kirkcaldy boasted a railway station, a football club, a museum and art gallery, and a college named after Adam Smith. There were streets of solid, prosperous-looking Victorian villas, some of which had been turned into offices and businesses. Further out were housing schemes, some of them so recent there were still plots waiting to be sold. A couple of parks, at least two high schools, and some 1960s high-rises. The dialect was not impenetrable, and shoppers stopped to talk to each other outside the bakeries and newsagents.
‘I’m nodding off here,’ Tony Kaye commented at one point. He was in his own car’s passenger seat, Joe Naysmith driving and Fox in the back. Lunch had comprised filled rolls and packets of crisps. Fox had called their boss in Edinburgh to make an initial report. The call had lasted no more than three minutes.
‘So?’ Kaye asked, turning in his seat to make eye contact with Fox.
‘I like it,’ Fox answered, staring at the passing scene.
‘Shall I tell you what I see, Foxy? I see people who should be at work this time of day. Scroungers and the walking wounded, coffin-dodgers, jakeys and ASBOs.’
Joe Naysmith had started humming the tune to ‘What a Wonderful World’.
‘Every car we’ve passed,’ Kaye went on, undeterred, ‘the driver’s either a drug dealer or he’s hot-wired it. The pavements need hosing down and so do half the kids. It tells you all you need to know about a place when the biggest shop seems to be called Rejects.’ He paused for effect. ‘And you’re telling me you like it?’
‘You’re seeing what you want to see, Tony, and then letting your imagination run riot.’
Kaye turned to Naysmith. ‘And as for you, you weren’t even born when that song came out, so you can shut it.’
‘My mum had the record. Well, the cassette anyway. Or maybe the CD.’
Kaye was looking at Fox again. ‘Can we please go back and ask our questions, get whatever answers they want to dump on us, and then vamoose the hell out of here?’
‘When did CDs start appearing? Naysmith asked.
Kaye punched him on the shoulder.
‘What’s that for?’
‘Cruelty to my gearbox. Have you ever even driven a car before?’
‘Okay,’ Fox said. ‘You win. Joe, take us back to the station.’
‘Left or right at the next junction?’
‘Enough’s enough,’ Tony Kaye said, making to open the glove box. ‘I’m plugging in the satnav.’
Detective Sergeant Gary Michaelson had grown up in Greenock but lived in Fife since the age of eighteen. He’d attended Adam Smith College, then done his police training at Tulliallan. He was three years younger than Ray Scholes, married, and had two daughters.
‘Schools here good?’ Fox had asked him.
Michaelson was happy to talk about Fife and Greenock and family, but when the subject turned to Detective Constable Paul Carter, he offered as little as Scholes before him.
‘If I didn’t know better,’ Fox commented at one point, ‘I’d say you’d been put through your paces.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Coached in what not to say – coached by DI Scholes, maybe…’
‘Not true,’ Michaelson had insisted.
It was also untrue that he had altered or deleted notes he had taken during an interview conducted both at the home of Teresa Collins and in the very same interview room where they were now seated. Fox recited part of Teresa Collins’s testimony:
‘You can charge me with anything you like, Paul. Just don’t think you’re putting your hands on me again. She didn’t say that?’
‘Verdict suggests otherwise.’
‘Not much I can do about that.’
‘But there was a bit of personal history between Carter and Ms Collins. You can’t have been unaware of it.’
‘She says there was a history.’
‘Neighbours saw him coming and going.’
‘Half of them known to us, by the way.’
‘You’re saying they’re liars?’
‘What do you think?’
‘Doesn’t really matter what I think. How about the missing page from your notebook?’
‘Spilled coffee on it.’
‘Pages underneath seem fine.’
‘Not much I can do about that.’
‘So you keep saying…’
Throughout the interview, Fox knew better than to make eye contact with Tony Kaye. Kaye’s infrequent contributions to the questioning showed his growing irritation. They were getting nowhere and would almost certainly continue to get nowhere. Scholes, Michaelson and the allegedly flu-ridden Haldane had not only had plenty of time to choreograph their answers, they’d also already premiered the routine in the courtroom.
Teresa Collins was lying.
The other two complainants were chancers.
The judge had helped the prosecution at every available turn.
‘Thing is,’ Fox said, slowly and quietly, making sure he had Michaelson’s attention, ‘when your own force’s Professional Standards team looked into the allegations, they reckoned there might be something to them. And don’t forget: it wasn’t Ms Collins who started the whole process…’
He let that sink in for a moment. Michaelson’s focus remained fixed to a portion of the wall over Fox’s left shoulder. He was wiry and prematurely bald and his nose had been broken at some point in his life. Plus there was an inch-long scar running across his chin. Fox wondered if he’d done any amateur boxing.
‘It was another police officer,’ he continued, ‘Paul Carter’s uncle. Are you calling him a liar too?’
‘He’s not a cop, he’s an ex-cop.’
‘What difference does it make?’
Michaelson offered a shrug and folded his arms.
‘Battery change,’ Naysmith broke in, switching off the camera. Michaelson stretched his back. Fox heard the clicking of vertebrae. Tony Kaye was on his feet, shaking each leg as if trying to get the circulation going.
‘Much longer?’ Michaelson asked.
‘That’s up to you,’ Fox told him.
‘Well we all still get paid at the end of the day, eh?’
‘Not in a rush to get back to your desk?’
‘Doesn’t really matter, does it? You tidy up one crime, another two or three are just around the corner.’
Fox saw that Joe Naysmith was going through the pockets of the equipment bag. Naysmith knew he was being watched, looked up, and had the good sense to look contrite.
‘The spare’s still charging,’ he said.
‘Where?’ Tony Kaye asked.
‘The office.’ Naysmith paused. ‘In Edinburgh.’
‘Meaning we’re done?’ Gary Michaelson’s eyes were on Malcolm Fox.
‘So it would seem,’ Fox answered, grudgingly. ‘For now…’
‘What a complete and utter waste of a day,’ said Tony Kaye, not for the first time. They had retraced their route back to Edinburgh, still mainly in the outside lane. This time, the bulk of the traffic was heading into Fife, the bottleneck on the Edinburgh side of the Forth Road Bridge. Their destination was Police HQ on Fettes Avenue. Chief Inspector Bob McEwan was still in the office. He pointed to the battery charger next to the kettle and mugs.
‘Wondered about that,’ he said.
‘Wonder no more,’ Fox replied.
The room wasn’t large, because Counter Corruption comprised a small team. Most Complaints officers worked in a larger office along the corridor where Professional Ethics and Standards handled the meat-and-potatoes workload. This year, McEwan seemed to be spending most of his time in meetings to do with restructuring the whole department.
‘Basically, writing myself out of a job,’ as he had put it himself. ‘Not that you should worry your pretty little heads…’
Kaye had thrown his coat over the back of his chair and was seated at his desk, while Naysmith busied himself switching the batteries in the charger.
‘Two interviews conducted,’ Fox told McEwan. ‘Both somewhat curtailed.’
‘I take it there was a bit of resistance.’
Fox gave a twitch of his mouth. ‘Tony thinks we’re talking to the wrong people anyway. I’m beginning to agree with him.’
‘Nobody’s expecting miracles, Malcolm. The Deputy Chief Constable phoned me earlier. It takes as long as it takes.’
‘Any longer than a week and I might run a hose from my car exhaust,’ Kaye muttered.
‘It takes as long as it takes,’ McEwan repeated for his benefit.
Eventually they settled down to review the recordings. Halfway through, McEwan checked his watch and said that he had to be elsewhere. Then Kaye received a text.
‘Urgent appointment with the wife and a bottle of wine,’ he explained, patting Fox’s shoulder. ‘Let me know how it turns out, eh?’
For the next five minutes, Fox could sense Naysmith fidgeting. It was gone five anyway, so he told his young colleague to bugger off.
Fox gestured towards the door, and soon he was alone in the office, thinking that maybe he should have praised Naysmith for his work behind the camera. Both picture and sound were sharp. There was a notepad on Fox’s lap, but it was blank apart from spirals, stars and other assorted doodles. He thought back to something Scholes had said, about the Complaints wanting to drag everyone else down with Paul Carter. Carter was history. What reason was there to suppose Scholes and the others would keep breaking the rules? Of course they’d look out for each other, stick up for each other, but maybe a lesson had been learned. Fox knew he could put the investigation into cruise control, could ask the questions, log the responses and come to no great conclusions. That might be the outcome anyway. So what was the point of busting a gut? This, he felt, was the subtext of the whole day, the thing Tony Kaye had been bursting to say. The three officers had been named and shamed in court. Now they were the subject of an internal inquiry. Did all that not comprise punishment enough?
In the Pancake Place, Kaye had mentioned Colin Balfour. The Complaints had put together just about enough of a case to see him drummed out of the force, but they’d stopped short of implicating two or three other officers who had attempted a cover-up. Those officers were still working; never a hint of trouble.
No complaints, as the saying went.
Fox used the remote to switch off the recording. All it proved was that they were doing what was expected of them. He very much doubted the bosses at Fife Constabulary HQ required further bad news; they just wanted to be able to say that the judge’s comments had not been ignored. Scholes, Haldane and Michaelson needed only to go on denying everything. And that meant Tony Kaye was right. It was the other CID officers they should be talking to – if they wanted to be thorough. And what about Carter’s uncle? Shouldn’t they also get his side of the story? Fox was intrigued about the man’s motive. His evidence in court had been brief but effective. The way he told it, his nephew had paid him a visit one afternoon after a few drinks. He’d been garrulous, talking about the ways in which policing had changed since his uncle’s day. Not so many corners could be cut, and there were fewer fringe benefits.
But there’s one perk I get that maybe you and my dad never did…
Fox was reminded that he hadn’t spoken to his own father in a couple of days. His sister and he took it in turns to visit. She was probably at the care home right now. The staff liked you to avoid mealtimes, and by mid-evening a lot of the ‘clients’ (as staff insisted on calling them) were being readied for bed. He walked over to the windows and stared out at the darkening city. Was Edinburgh ten times the size of Kirkcaldy? Bigger, surely. Back at his desk, he switched on his computer and sat down to do a search.
Just under an hour later, he was in his car and heading for his home in Oxgangs. There was a supermarket almost on his doorstep, and he stopped long enough to grab a microwave curry and a bottle of Appletiser, plus the evening paper. The story on the front page concerned a drug dealer who had just been found guilty and sent to jail. Fox knew the detective who had led the inquiry – he’d been the subject of a Complaints investigation two years back. Now he was smiling for the cameras, job done.
How come you hate cops so much? The question Scholes had asked. Time was, CID could cut corners and be sure of getting away with it. Fox’s task was to stop them doing that. Not for ever and a day – in a year or two he would be back in CID himself, rubbing shoulders with those he had scrutinised; trying to put drug dealers behind bars without bending the rules, fearful of the Complaints and coming to despise them. He had begun to wonder if he could do that – work with officers who knew his past; work what everyone regarded as ‘proper’ cases…
He stuffed the newspaper into the bottom of his basket, covered by his other purchases.
The bungalow was in darkness. He’d thought of buying one of those timers that brought a light on at dusk, but knew this was no real deterrent to housebreakers. He had little enough worth stealing: TV and computer, after which they’d be looking around in vain. A couple of homes near him had been broken into in the past month. He’d even had a police constable on his doorstep, asking if he’d seen or heard anything. Fox hadn’t bothered identifying himself as a fellow officer. He’d just shaken his head and the constable had nodded and headed elsewhere.
Going through the motions.
Six minutes, the curry took. Fox found a news channel on the TV and turned the sound up. The world seemed to be filled with war, famine and natural disasters. An earthquake here, a tornado there. A climate-change expert was being interviewed. He was warning that viewers needed to get used to these phenomena, to floods and droughts and heatwaves. The interviewer managed somehow to hand back to the studio with a smile. Maybe once he was off air, he would start running around pulling out clumps of his hair and screaming, but Fox doubted it. He pressed the interactive button on the remote and scanned the Scottish headlines. There was nothing new on the explosion outside Lockerbie; the Alert Status at Fettes had been MODERATE, same as at Kirkcaldy. Lockerbie: as if that benighted spot hadn’t seen enough in its history… Fox flipped to a sports channel and watched the darts as he ate the remainder of his meal.
He was just finishing when his phone started ringing. It was his sister Jude.
‘What’s up?’ he asked her. They took it in turns to call. It was his turn, not hers.
‘I’ve just been to see Dad.’ He heard her sniff back a tear.
‘Is he okay?’
‘He keeps forgetting things.’
‘One of the carers told me he didn’t make it to the toilet in time this morning. They’ve put him in a pad.’
Fox closed his eyes.
‘And sometimes he forgets my name or what year it is.’
‘He has good days too, Jude.’
‘How would you know? Just because you pick up the bills doesn’t mean you can walk away!’
‘Who’s walking away?’
‘I never see you there.’
‘You know that’s not true. I visit when I can.’
‘Not nearly enough.’
‘We can’t all lead lives of leisure, Jude.’
‘You think I’m not looking for a job?’
Fox squeezed his eyes shut again: walked into that one, Malc. ‘That’s not what I meant.’
‘It’s exactly what you meant!’
‘Let’s not get into this, eh?’
There was silence on the line for a few moments. Jude sighed and began speaking again. ‘I took him a box of photographs today. Thought maybe the pair of us could go through them. But they just seemed to upset him. He kept saying, “They’re all dead. How can everyone be dead?”’
‘I’ll go see him, Jude. Don’t worry about it. Maybe the thing to do is phone ahead, and if the staff don’t think it’s worth a visit that day-’
‘That’s not what I’m saying!’ Her voice rose again. ‘You think I mind visiting him? He’s our dad.’
‘I know that. I was just…’ He paused, then asked the question he felt was expected of him. ‘Do you want me to come over?’
‘It’s not me you need to go see.’
‘So you’ll do it?’
‘Even though you’re busy?’
‘Soon as I’m off the phone,’ Fox assured her.
‘And you’ll get back to me? Tell me what you think?’
‘I’m sure he’s fine, Jude.’
‘You want him to be – that way he’s not on your conscience.’
‘I’m putting the phone down now, Jude. I’m putting the phone down and heading out to see Dad…’
The staff of Lauder Lodge, however, had other ideas.
It was past nine when Fox got there. He could hear a TV blaring in the lounge. Lots of people coming and going – looked like a shift changeover.
‘Your father’s in bed,’ Fox was told. ‘He’ll be asleep.’
‘Then I won’t wake him. I just want to see him for a minute.’
‘We try not to disturb clients once they’re in bed.’
‘Didn’t he used to stay up for the ten o’clock news?’
‘That was then.’
‘Is he on any new medication? Anything I don’t know about?’
The woman took a moment to weigh up whether an accusation was being made, then gave a resigned sigh. ‘Just a minute, you say?’ Fox nodded, and she nodded back. Anything for a quiet life…
Mitch Fox’s room was in a new annexe to the side of the original Victorian property. Fox walked past a room that had, until a couple of months back, been home to Mrs Sanderson. Mrs Sanderson and Fox’s father had become firm friends during their time in Lauder Lodge. Fox had helped Mitch attend her funeral, no more than a dozen people in the crematorium chapel. No one had come from her family, because no family had been traced. There was a new name next to the door of her old room: D. Nesbitt. Fox got the feeling that if he peeled away that sticker, there’d be another underneath bearing Mrs Sanderson’s name, and maybe another beneath that.
He didn’t bother knocking on his father’s door, just turned the handle and crept in. The curtains were closed and the light was off, but there was a good amount of illumination from the street lamp outside. Fox could make out his father’s form under the duvet. He had almost reached the bedside chair when a dry voice asked what time it was.
‘Twenty past,’ Fox told his father.
‘Twenty past what?’
‘So what brings you here, then?’ Mitch Fox turned on the lamp and started to sit up. His son moved forward to help him. ‘Has something happened?’
‘Jude was a bit worried.’ Fox saw that the shoebox full of old family photos was on the chair. He lifted it and sat down, resting it on his knees. His father’s hair, wispy, almost like a baby’s, had a yellowish tinge. His face was thinner than ever, the skin resembling parchment. But the eyes seemed clear and untroubled.
‘We both know your sister likes her little dramas. What’s she been telling you?’
‘Just that your memory’s not what it was.’
‘Whose is?’ Mitch nodded towards the shoebox. ‘Because I couldn’t tell her the exact spot where some photo was taken fifty-odd years ago?’
Fox opened the lid of the box and lifted out a handful of snaps. Some had writing on the back: names, dates, places. But there were question marks, too. Lots of question marks… and something that looked like a tear stain. Fox rubbed a finger across it, then turned the photo over. His mother dandled a child on either knee. She was seated on the edge of a rockery.
‘This one only goes back thirty years,’ Fox said, holding the photo up for his father to see. Mitch peered at it.
‘Blackpool maybe,’ he said. ‘You and Jude…’
Mitch Fox nodded slowly. ‘Any water there?’ he asked. Fox looked, but there was no jug on the bedside cabinet. ‘Get me some, will you?’
Fox went into the adjoining bathroom. The jug was there, along with a plastic tumbler. He reckoned the staff didn’t want Mitchell Fox guzzling water at night, not if it meant trouble in the morning. The pack of incontinence pads sat in full view next to the sink. Fox filled jug and tumbler both and took them through.
‘Good lad,’ his father said. A few drops dribbled from his chin as he drank, but he needed no help placing the drained tumbler next to him by the bed. ‘You’ll tell Jude not to worry?’
‘Sure.’ Fox sat down again.
‘And you’ll manage to do it without falling out?’
‘I’ll try my best.’
‘Takes two to make an argument.’
‘You sure about that? I think Jude could have a pretty good go in an empty room.’
‘Maybe so, but you don’t always help.’
‘Is this you and me arguing now?’ Fox watched his father give a tired smile. ‘Want me to go so you can get back to sleep?’
‘I don’t sleep. I just lie here, waiting.’
Fox knew what the answer to his next question would be, so he didn’t ask it. Instead, he told his father that he’d just spent a fruitless day over in Fife.
‘You used to love it there,’ Mitch told him.
‘When was I ever in Fife?’
‘My cousin Chris – we used to visit him.’
‘Where did he live?’
‘Burntisland. The beach, the outdoor pool, the links…’
‘How old was I?’
‘Chris died young. Take a look, he should be in there somewhere.’
Fox realised that his father meant the shoebox. So they lifted out the contents on to the bed. Some of the photos were loose, others in packets along with their negatives. A mixture of colour and black-and-white, including some wedding photos. (Fox ignored the ones of him and Elaine – their marriage hadn’t lasted long.) There were blurry snaps of holidays, Christmases, birthdays, works outings. Until eventually Mitch was handing a particular shot to him.
‘That’s Chris there. He’s got Jude on his shoulders. Big, tall, strapping chap.’
‘Would this be Burntisland then?’ Fox studied the photograph. Jude’s gap-toothed mouth was wide open. Hard to tell if it was laughter or terror at being so high off the ground. Chris was grinning for the camera. Fox tried to remember him, but failed.
‘Might be his back garden,’ Mitch Fox was saying.
‘How did he die?’
‘Motorbike, daft laddie. Look at them all.’ Mitch waved a hand across the strewn photographs. ‘Dead and buried and mostly forgotten.’
‘Some of us are still here, though,’ Fox said. ‘And that’s the way I like it.’
Mitch patted the back of his son’s hand.
‘Did I really love it in Fife?’
‘There was a park up near St Andrews. We went there one day. It had a train we all sat on. There might be a photo if we look hard enough. Lots of beaches, too – and a market in Kirkcaldy once a year
‘Kirkcaldy? That’s where I’ve just been. How come I don’t remember it?’
‘You won a goldfish there once. Poor thing was dead inside a day.’ Mitch fixed his son with a look. ‘You’ll put Jude’s mind at rest?’
Fox nodded, and his father patted his hand again before lying back against the pillows. Fox sat with him for another hour and a half, looking at photographs. He switched the lamp off just before he left.
‘This is a joke, right?’
‘It’s what’s on offer,’ the desk sergeant said. He looked every bit as pleased with this morning’s outcome as he had done the day before when informing them that none of their interviewees were available. ‘The door locks, and the key’s yours if you want it.’
‘It’s a storeroom,’ Joe Naysmith stated, switching on the light.
‘Forty-watt bulb,’ Tony Kaye said. ‘We might as well bring torches.’
Someone had placed three rickety-looking chairs in the centre of the small room, leaving no space for a desk of any kind. The shelves were filled with boxes – old cases identified by a code number and year – plus broken and superannuated office equipment.
‘Any chance of a word with Superintendent Pitkethly?’ Fox asked the sergeant.
‘She’s in Glenrothes.’
‘Now there’s a surprise.’
The sergeant was dangling the key from his finger.
‘It’s somewhere to park the gear, if nothing else,’ Naysmith reasoned.
Fox gave a loud exhalation through his nostrils and snatched the key from the sergeant.
While Naysmith brought the equipment bag in from the car, Fox and Kaye stayed in the corridor, eyeing the interior of the storeroom. The corridor was suddenly busy with uniforms and civilian staff, all passing through and stifling smirks.
‘No way I’m parking myself in there,’ Kaye said with a slow shake of the head. ‘I’d look like the bloody janitor.’
‘Joe’s right, though – it’s somewhere to store the gear between interviews.’
‘Any way we can speed the process, Malcolm?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘You and me – we could take an interview each, be done in half the time. The only people we need on tape are Scholes, Haldane and Michaelson. The others are just chats, aren’t they?’
Fox nodded. ‘But there’s only one interview room.’
‘Not everyone we’re talking to is based at the station…’
Fox stared at Kaye. ‘You really do want this over and done with.’
‘Basic time management,’ Kaye said with a glint in his eye. ‘Better value for the hard-pressed taxpayer.’
‘So how do we split it?’ Fox folded his arms.
‘Got any favourites?’
‘I fancy a word with the uncle.’
Kaye considered this, then nodded slowly. ‘Take my car. I’ll try Cheryl Forrester.’
‘Fair enough. What do we do with Joe?’
They turned to watch as Joe Naysmith pushed open the door at the end of the corridor, the heavy black bag slung over one shoulder.
‘We toss a coin,’ Kaye said, holding out a fifty-pence piece. ‘Loser keeps him.’
A few minutes later, Malcolm Fox was heading out to Kaye’s Ford Mondeo, minus Naysmith. He adjusted the driver’s seat and reached into the glove box for the satnav, plugging it in and fixing it to the dashboard. Alan Carter’s postcode was in the file, and he found it after a bit of hunting. The satnav did a quick search before pointing him in the right direction. He soon found himself on the coast road, heading south towards a place called Kinghorn. Signposts told him the next town after this was Burntisland. He thought again of his father’s cousin Chris. Maybe the motorbike had crashed on this very stretch. It was the kind of drive he reckoned bikers would relish, winding gently and with the sea to one side, steep hillside to the other. Was that a seal’s head bobbing in the water? He slowed the car a little. The driver behind flashed his lights, then overtook with a blast of his horn.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ Fox muttered, glancing at the satnav. His destination was close by. He passed a caravan site and signalled to take the next road on the right. It was a steep track, rutted and throwing up clouds of dust behind him. He knew he daren’t ding Kaye’s pride and joy, so ended up in first gear, doing five miles an hour. The climb continued. According to the satnav, he was nowhere, had passed his destination. Fox stopped the car and got out. He had a fine view down towards the shoreline, rows of caravans to his left and a hotel to his right. He looked at the address he had for Alan Carter: Gallowhill Cottage. The road was about to disappear into woodland. Something caught Fox’s eye: a wisp of smoke from above the treeline. He got back behind the steering wheel and eased the gear lever forward.
The cottage sat near the top of the rise, just as the track came to an end at a gate leading to fields. A few sheep were scattered around. Noiseless crows glided between the trees. The wind was biting, though the sun had broken from behind a bank of cloud.
Smoke continued to drift up from the cottage’s chimney. There was an olive-green Land Rover parked off to one side, next to a large, neat pile of split logs. The door of the cottage rattled open. The man who filled the doorway was almost a parody of the big, jolly policeman. Alan Carter’s face was ruddy, cheeks and nose criss-crossed with thin red veins. His eyes sparkled and his pale yellow cardigan was stretched to the limit of its buttons. The check shirt beneath was open at the collar, allowing copious grey chest hair to breathe. Though almost completely bald, he retained bushy sideburns, which almost met at one of his chins.
‘I knew I’d be getting a visit,’ Carter bellowed, one pudgy hand resting on the door frame. ‘Should’ve made an appointment, though. I seem to be busier these days than ever.’ Fox was standing in front of him now, and the two men shook hands.
‘You’re not in the Craft, then?’ Carter asked.
‘Time was, most coppers you met were Masons. In you come then, lad
The hallway was short and narrow, most of the space taken up with bookshelves, coat rack and a selection of wellington boots. The living room was small and sweltering, courtesy of a fire piled high with logs.
‘Need to keep it warm for Jimmy Nicholl,’ Carter said.
An ancient-looking Border collie with rheumy eyes blinked in Fox’s direction from its basket near the fireplace.
‘Who’s he named for?’
‘The Raith manager. Not now, of course, but Jimmy took us into Europe.’ Carter broke off and gave Fox a look. ‘Not a football fan either?’
‘Used to be. My name’s Fox, by the way. Inspector Fox.’
‘Rubber-Sole Brigade – that what they still call you?’
‘That or the Complaints.’
‘And doubtless worse things too, behind your back.’
‘Or to our faces.’
‘Will it be a mug of tea or something stronger?’ Carter nodded towards a bottle of whisky on a shelf.
‘Tea’ll do the job.’
‘Bit early in the day for the “cratur”, maybe,’ Carter agreed. ‘I won’t be a minute.’
He headed for the kitchen. Fox could hear him pouring water into a kettle. His voice boomed down the hallway. ‘When I read Cardonald’s summing-up, I knew there’d have to be an inquiry. You’re not local, though. A local might’ve known the name Jimmy Nicholl. On top of which, your car’s from Edinburgh…’
Carter was back in the room now, looking pleased with himself.
‘The registration?’ Fox guessed.
‘The dealer’s sticker in the back window,’ Carter corrected him. ‘Take a seat, laddie.’ He gestured to one of the two armchairs. ‘Milk and sugar?’
‘Just milk. Are you still in security, Mr Carter?’
‘Is this you showing me you’ve done your research?’ Carter smiled. ‘The company’s still mine.’
‘What exactly does the company do?’
‘Doormen for bars and clubs… security guards… protection for visiting dignitaries.’
‘Do a lot of dignitaries pass through Kirkcaldy?’
‘They did when Gordon Brown was PM. And they still like to play golf at St Andrews.’
Carter left the room to fetch their drinks, and Fox crossed to the window. There was a dining table there, piled high with paperwork and magazines. The paperwork had been stuffed into folders. A map of Fife lay open, locations circled in black ink. The magazines seemed to date back to the 1980s, and when Fox lifted one of them he saw that there was a newspaper beneath it. The date on the newspaper was Monday, 29 April 1985.
‘You’ll have me pegged as a hoarder,’ Carter said, carrying a tray into the room. He placed it on a corner of the table and poured out tea for the both of them. Half a dozen shortbread fingers had been emptied on to a patterned plate.
‘And a bachelor?’ Fox guessed.
‘Your research has let you down. My wife ran off with somebody two decades back, and the same number of years younger than me at the time.’
‘Making her a cradle-snatcher.’
Carter wagged a finger. ‘I’m sixty-two. Jessica was forty and the wee shite-bag twenty-one.’
‘Nobody else since?’
‘Christ, man, is this a Complaints interview or a dating service? She’s dead anyway, God rest her. Had a kid with the shite-bag.’
‘But none with yourself?’ Carter gave a twitch of the mouth. ‘Does that rankle?’
‘Why should it? Maybe my son or daughter would have turned out as bad as my nephew.’
Carter gestured towards the chairs and the two men sat down with their drinks. There was a slight stinging sensation in Fox’s eyes, which he tried blinking away.
‘It’s the woodsmoke,’ Carter explained. ‘You can’t see it, but it’s there.’ He reached down and fed Jimmy Nicholl half a shortbread finger. ‘His teeth are just about up to it. Come to think of it, mine aren’t much better.’
‘You’ve been retired fifteen years?’
‘I’ve been out of the force that long.’
‘Your brother was a cop same time as you?’
‘A year shy of retirement when his heart gave out.’
‘Was that around the time your nephew joined the police?’
Alan Carter nodded. ‘Maybe it was why he joined up. He never seemed to have a gift for it. What’s the word I’m looking for?’
‘Aye. That’s what Paul never had.’
‘You weren’t keen on him following the family tradition?’
Alan Carter was silent for a moment, then he leaned forward as best he could, resting the mug on one knee.
‘Paul was never a good son. He ran his mother ragged until the cancer took her. After that, it was his dad’s turn. At the funeral, all he seemed interested in was how much the house was worth, and how much effort it was going to take to get the place emptied.’
‘The two of you weren’t exactly friendly, then. Yet he came to see you…’
‘I think he’d been partying all night. It was just past noon. How he got the car up here without smashing it…’ Carter stared into the fire. ‘He wanted to do a bit of bragging. But he was maudlin, too – you know the way drink can sometimes take us.’
‘One of the reasons I don’t do it.’ Fox took a swig of tea. It was dark and strong, coating his tongue and the back of his throat.
‘He came here to show off. Said he was a better cop than any of us. He “owned” Kirkcaldy, and I needn’t go thinking I did, even if I could hide behind an army of bouncers.’
‘I get the feeling this is verbatim.’
‘Got to have a good memory. Whenever I was called to give evidence, I always knew it by heart – one way to impress a jury.’
‘So eventually he told you about Teresa Collins?’
‘Aye.’ Carter nodded to himself, still watching the fire spit and crackle. ‘Hers was the only name, but he said there’d been others. I thought the force had seen the back of his kind – maybe you’re not old enough to remember the way it was.’
‘Full of racists and sexists?’ Fox paused. ‘And Masons…’
Carter gave a quiet chuckle.
‘It still goes on,’ Fox continued. ‘Maybe not nearly as widespread as it was, but all the same.’
‘Your line of work, I suppose you see it more than most.’
Fox answered with a shrug and placed his empty mug on the floor, declining the offer of a refill. ‘The day he came here, did he mention the others: Scholes, Haldane, Michaelson?’
‘Only in passing.’
‘Nothing about them bending the rules?’
‘And you hadn’t heard rumours to that effect?’
‘I’d say you’ve got your work cut out there.’
‘Mmm.’ Fox sounded as if he were in complete agreement.
‘The force is going to want to move on.’
‘I’d think so.’ Fox shifted in his chair, hearing it creak beneath him. ‘Can I ask you something else about your nephew?’
‘Well, it’s one thing to disapprove of what he said he did…’
‘But quite another to take it further?’ Carter pursed his lips. ‘I didn’t do anything about it… not straight away. But lying in bed at night, I’d be thinking of Tommy – Paul’s dad. A good man; a really good man. And Paul’s mum, too; such a lovely woman. I was wondering what they’d be thinking. Then there was Teresa Collins – I didn’t know her, but I didn’t like the way he’d talked about her. So I had a quiet word.’
‘And this quiet word was with…?’
‘Superintendent Hendryson. He’s not there any more. Retired, I seem to think.’
‘It’s a woman called Pitkethly nowadays.’
Carter nodded. ‘It was Hendryson who really started the ball rolling.’
‘Nothing happened, though, did it?’
‘Teresa Collins wouldn’t talk. Not at first. Without her, there was nothing for the Fife Complaints to investigate.’
‘Any idea why she changed her mind?’
‘Maybe she was tossing and turning, same as me.’
‘You’ve no friends left on the force, Mr Carter?’
‘He was after my time, more or less.’
‘So you went to Hendryson. He brought in the local Complaints team. They didn’t get very far. But then these other two women came forward, and that’s when Teresa Collins decided she’d cooperate?’
‘That’s about the size of it.’
Fox sat for a few moments longer. Alan Carter seemed in no rush to see him go, but he had nothing keeping him there, nothing but the warmth of the fire and companionable silence.
‘A long way from Edinburgh, isn’t it, Inspector?’ Carter said quietly. ‘These are the backlands, where things tend to get fixed on the quiet.’
‘You regret what’s happened to your nephew? All that media exposure?’
‘I doubt anything’s “happened” to him.’ Carter tapped the side of his head. ‘Not in here.’
‘He’s in jail, though. That’s tough on the family.’
‘I’m the family – all that’s left of it.’ Carter paused. ‘Are your folks still with us?’
‘My dad is,’ Fox conceded.
‘Sisters and brothers?’
‘Just the one sister.’
‘Close, are you?’ Fox chose not to answer. ‘Luckier than most if you are. Sometimes you have to draw a line between yourself and the ones you’re supposed to love.’ Carter ran a finger horizontally through the air. ‘It might sting for a while, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.’
Fox sat for a further moment or two, then rose to his feet, his host copying him. The man was almost wedged into the chair, but Fox doubted he’d accept any offer of help.
‘Macaroni cheese, that’s my downfall, eh, Jimmy?’
The dog’s ears pricked up at mention of its name. Fox had paused next to the dining table.
‘If I was to describe you,’ Fox began, ‘I’d say you were orderly – coats on the rack; boots laid out in a row. Biscuits need to go on a plate, not served straight from the packet. And that makes me wonder about this…’ He waved his hand across the table. ‘It’s not just hoarding, is it? There’s some sort of pattern to it.’
‘A bit of historical research.’
‘There or thereabouts.’
‘Late April maybe?’
‘Go on then – tell me what happened.’
‘In April ’85?’ Fox tried to think. In the end, he gave up.
‘Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis at the snooker,’ Alan Carter said, leading the way to the door.
Detective Constable Cheryl Forrester liked to ask questions. Questions like: How long have you been in the Complaints? Is there a selection process? How many of you work there? Is it for life, or some kind of fixed term? Why is it you’re detective grade but not called detectives? What’s been your most shocking case? What’s the nightlife like in Edinburgh?
‘It’s only a train ride away, you know,’ Joe Naysmith told her.
‘Oh, I’ve been there plenty times.’
‘Then you probably know the nightlife better than we do,’ Tony Kaye said.
‘But I mean the places locals go…’
‘DC Forrester, we’re not really here to pass along tourist tips.’
‘I like the Voodoo Rooms,’ Naysmith interrupted. He saw the look on his colleague’s face and swallowed back a further comment.
The problem was, Forrester’s enthusiasm was almost infectious. The description ‘bubbly’ might have been coined for her. She had curly brown hair, tanned skin, and a rounded face with freckles and large brown eyes. She had been in the force for six years, the last two in CID. Right at the start, she’d told them she was too busy for a boyfriend.
‘I’m sure plenty have tried,’ Kaye had stated, intending to bring Paul Carter’s name into play, but she had steered the conversation in another direction by asking Naysmith if the Complaints worked nine-to-five, to which he’d responded by telling her about their surveillance van and how an operation could last anything up to a year.
‘A year of your life? Better be a result at the end of it!’
And so it went, until Kaye finally rapped his knuckles against the table. They were in the interview room again, but without the recording equipment. Forrester, sensing she was somehow worthy of censure, set her mouth tight and clasped her hands together in front of her.
‘As you know,’ Tony Kaye began, ‘certain allegations have been levelled at several of your colleagues. Would you care to tell us what you think of them?’
‘The allegations or the colleagues?’
‘Why not both?’
Forrester puffed out her cheeks. ‘I was shocked when I heard. I think everyone was. I’d worked with DC Carter for almost eighteen months and he’d never… well, never struck me as being like that.’
‘You’ve been out on calls with him?’
‘In the car with him?’
‘And he’s never said anything? Never asked you to wait while he popped into a house or a flat?’
‘Not like that, no.’
‘Police stations are terrible places for gossip…’
‘I can’t say I’ve ever heard anything.’ She stared at Kaye with her wide, innocent-seeming eyes.
‘Your colleagues in CID – Scholes, Haldane, Michaelson…’
‘What about them?’
‘When the Carter investigation started, they must’ve talked about it.’
‘I suppose so.’
‘Did anything strike you? Maybe they went into a huddle?’
She gave a look of concentration, then shook her head slowly but with certainty.
‘Did you ever feel left out? Maybe they headed off to the pub together…’
‘We have nights at the pub, yes.’
‘You must have discussed the case.’
‘Yes, but not how to tamper with evidence.’
‘The time Michaelson spilled coffee on his notebook – did you see that?’
‘And you never saw Teresa Collins, never heard Carter on the phone to her?’
‘How come you weren’t called as a witness at the trial? Sounds to me like you could have done Carter a power of good.’
‘I don’t really know. I mean, all I could have said is what I’ve just told you.’
‘Carter never came on to you?’
There was silence in the room. Forrester looked down at her hands and then up again. ‘Never,’ she stated.
‘And that’s the truth, not just something you’ve been told to say?’
‘It’s the truth. Bring me a bible and I’ll swear on it.’
‘If we can’t find a bible,’ Naysmith interrupted, ‘would a cocktail list suffice?’
Cheryl Forrester laughed, showing perfect pearly teeth.
At the end of the interview, Naysmith said he’d walk her back to CID.
‘It’s not like she’s going to get mugged,’ Kaye chided his colleague, but Naysmith ignored him. Kaye decided to wander outside for some air. In the car park, a hovering gull just missed him, splattering an MG’s windscreen instead. There was no sign of the Mondeo, and no sign of Fox. Kaye took out his mobile and checked for messages. He had three, one of them from Malcolm. Back inside the station, he kept his finger on the bell until the desk sergeant arrived with the same welcoming black look as ever.
‘I’ll take DCI Laird, if he’s around,’ Kaye said.
‘I’m not sure he is.’
‘Okay, never mind.’ Kaye headed for the corridor and climbed the stairs to the next floor. CID comprised several offices here. Cheryl Forrester was in one of them, while Naysmith stood in the doorway, arms folded, one foot crossed over the other, talking to her. Kaye gave him a dig in the back as he passed, then pushed open the door to the large open-plan office further on. Scholes and Michaelson looked up from their desks. Scholes was on the phone, Michaelson navigating his computer screen with a mouse. Another man, slightly older than the other two, stood in the centre of the room. He had dispensed with his suit jacket, and his shirtsleeves were rolled up. He had waxy olive skin, hair that was grey at the temples, and bags under his eyes. He was reading from a sheaf of papers.
‘Detective Chief Inspector Laird?’ Kaye held out his hand. Laird had yet to make eye contact. He added a couple of words to the margin of one sheet, then pocketed his pen.
‘You’re Fox?’ he drawled.
‘Sergeant Kaye,’ Kaye corrected him, withdrawing his hand.
‘Probably off getting a second opinion on Haldane’s flu.’
‘Well now…’ Laird deigned to meet Kaye’s eyes at last. ‘You’re a cheeky little bastard, aren’t you?’
‘Depends on the situation, sir.’ Kaye sensed that he was standing in front of a man who believed in the troops under his command and would defend them to the bitter end. Forrester hadn’t been helpful because there was nothing for her to be helpful with, but Laird was another matter entirely. He would give them nothing because that was all they deserved. It was there in his tone, his manner, his way of standing, feet planted widely apart. Kaye had encountered the type plenty of times. They could be dismantled, but it took time and effort. Weeks of time, unceasing effort.
Fox’s message had been ‘Ask Laird why Pitkethly was brought in.’ It was a reasonable question, and Kaye knew why it was best not to ask Pitkethly herself. Quite simply, she probably wouldn’t know. She hadn’t known the station at all until she was shipped there. Laird had served under the previous regime. He was an old hand. If there was a story worth telling, Laird might be the one to tell it.
But a few seconds spent in the man’s company told Kaye this wasn’t going to happen.
‘My boss,’ he said, ‘had something he wanted me to ask you.’
‘Spit it out, then.’
But Kaye just shook his head. ‘I don’t think I will.’
Then he turned and walked away. Halfway down the corridor, he grabbed Naysmith by the back of his collar and took him with him.
The Mondeo’s parking space had been taken by an idling Astra. In fact, the only bay left was the one marked Superintendent, so that was where Fox ended up. As he made for the station entrance, he gave the Astra’s driver a look. The face was familiar.
‘About bloody time,’ Tony Kaye said, emerging from the station with Naysmith in tow. ‘Got your text but I didn’t reckon I was going to get any joy from Laird.’
‘DC Forrester was nice and helpful, though,’ Naysmith added, Kaye shooting him a look.
‘Helpful?’ he mimicked. ‘She gave us the square root of heehaw.’ Then, turning to Fox: ‘Tell me you’ve been having it worse than us. Got lost a few times maybe. Found the uncle but he’s doolally… Foxy? You listening?’
Fox’s attention was still focused on the Astra.
‘That’s Paul Carter,’ he said.
Fox started walking towards the car. It reversed out of its bay and began to exit the car park. Fox jogged after it for a few paces, then stopped. Kaye caught him up, the two men watching as the car shot away, modified exhaust roaring.
Fox gave him a cold stare.
‘Okay,’ Kaye conceded. ‘You’re sure.’
Fox took out his phone and called the Procurator Fiscal’s office. He was passed between extensions and offices until he found someone with the answers he needed. Paul Carter had been released on bail at 8.15 a.m., pending the sheriff’s decision on sentencing.
‘Cells are jam-packed,’ Fox was told. ‘Sheriff Cardonald reckoned he was one of the safer bets. Restricted movements – he’s not allowed within range of the three women.’
‘Who posted the bail?’
‘It wasn’t a huge amount.’
‘And this was the sheriff’s idea? Colin Cardonald?’
‘I suppose so.’
‘The judge who doesn’t like cops?’
But Fox had ended the call. ‘He’s out,’ he confirmed, for Kaye and Naysmith’s benefit.
‘Want to bring him in for a chat?’ Naysmith asked.
Fox shook his head.
‘Hell was he doing here?’ Kaye added.
‘Catching up with his pals,’ Fox guessed, turning to look at the station’s first-floor windows. Ray Scholes stood in one of them, a mug in his hand. He toasted Fox with it before turning away.
‘Doesn’t change anything,’ Tony Kaye stated.
‘No,’ Fox agreed.
‘And you still haven’t told us how you got on with the uncle.’
‘Good guy.’ Fox paused. ‘I liked him.’
‘Not half as much as Joe here likes DC Forrester.’ Kaye looked around the car park. ‘Where’s my Mondeo?’
‘I had to take Pitkethly’s spot.’
‘Best move it then, eh?’ Kaye held out his hand for the key.
‘Better still,’ Fox said, ‘let’s jump in and grab a spot of lunch. My shout.’
Kaye stared at him. ‘What’s the catch?’
Fox’s mouth twitched. ‘A wee cruise around town first.’
‘With an eye to spotting a silver Astra?’ Kaye guessed.
Fox handed him the key.
After a fruitless half-hour, they ended up back at the Pancake Place. Since Fox was paying, Kaye ordered soup and the fish mornay pancake. The same table as before was available, so they’d taken it.
‘Where does Carter live?’ Joe Naysmith asked.
‘Dunnikier Estate,’ Fox told him. ‘We drove through it yesterday.’
‘We drove through a lot of estates yesterday.’
‘Semis, pebble-dash, and satellite dishes.’
‘You’re not narrowing it down.’
‘We could go there,’ Kaye suggested. ‘See how he likes having us parked outside for an hour or two.’
‘To what end?’ Fox asked.
‘Getting his back up. Could we maybe set up the surveillance van – bug his phone and computer?’
Naysmith looked interested.
‘We’d need permission from HQ,’ Fox stated. ‘And they won’t give it.’
‘Why not?’ Naysmith asked with a frown.
‘Because we’re here for Scholes, Haldane and Michaelson – Carter’s outwith our remit.’
‘Well, what about bugging their phones?’ Naysmith suggested.
Fox looked at him. ‘Surveillance is a whole new game, Joe. I doubt anyone at HQ thinks them big enough fish to merit it. Plus, we’re not from here. It would have to be a Fife operation – local Complaints.’
Naysmith considered this for a moment, then went back to eating his Scotch broth. Fox’s phone started ringing and he answered. It was Superintendent Isabel Pitkethly.
‘Paul Carter’s no longer in custody,’ she told him.
‘Seems the sheriff has a little bit of faith in him.’
‘If he decides to appeal, the allegations against my officers may well be challenged in court.’
‘Not my concern, Superintendent.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m not working for the courts or the prosecution. Your bosses in Glenrothes tell me what to do, and so far they’ve not said anything about dropping the inquiry.’ Fox paused. ‘Have you spoken with Carter?’
‘Of course not.’
‘He was outside the station an hour ago.’
‘I didn’t know that.’
‘Scholes knew. Maybe you should ask why he kept it to himself.’
‘I’m not long back from HQ.’
‘You seem to spend a lot of time there. Updating them in person?’
She ignored this. ‘So you’ve not finished here yet?’
‘I’ll see you later then. And Inspector…?’
‘Don’t ever park that car in my space again.’
The afternoon comprised a wasted session in the interview room with DCI Peter Laird – there was nothing unusual about Superintendent Hendryson’s retirement; it had been his time, that was all – and a visit to the home of the sickly DS Haldane. They found Haldane sprawled on the sofa in his living room, a duvet swamping him and a visiting mother doling out tea, cold remedies and seasoned advice.
‘Can’t this wait till he’s better?’ she had chided the three intruders. It had eventually been agreed that Haldane would make himself available at the station in a day or two, so that a proper interview could take place.
‘What now?’ Kaye asked afterwards as they climbed into the car.
‘Dunnikier Estate,’ Fox said.
Kaye gave a little smile, as if he’d known this answer might be coming. Their destination was on the other side of town, and traffic was slow.
‘Schools coming out,’ Naysmith commented, watching uniformed pupils tramping along the pavement.
‘You’re a regular Hercule Poirot,’ Kaye muttered.
Eventually they turned in to Carter’s street. ‘That house there,’ Fox stated.
‘The one with the silver Astra in the drive?’ Kaye commented. ‘Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.’
‘Whose is the other car?’ Naysmith asked.
Fox supplied the answer. ‘Belongs to Ray Scholes.’
‘If that’s him coming out of the house…’
And so it was. A brief hug between the two men, Scholes and Carter, and then Carter disappearing inside, closing the door. Scholes clocked the Mondeo but didn’t seem surprised or bothered by it. He unlocked his black VW Golf and got in, Fox watching from the rear window of the Mondeo.
‘Do we pay our respects?’ Kaye asked, as they slowed for a junction.
‘Back to Edinburgh.’
‘Now you’re talking.’
‘And to while away the time, we’ll have a little quiz.’ Fox leaned forward so his face was between the two front seats. ‘What can either of you remember about 1985? Specifically, late April…’
Kaye’s way of insisting that they have a drink at Minter’s before going their separate ways was to drive directly to the pub and park outside it.
‘My treat,’ he said, ordering a pint for himself, a half for Naysmith and a Big Tom for Fox. From experience, the barman knew Naysmith’s ‘half’ was a joke, and began pouring two pints of Caledonian 80. They took their drinks to a table, and Kaye asked Fox how long it had been since he’d allowed himself a proper drink.
‘I’ve stopped counting.’
‘Aye, right.’ Kaye wiped a line of foam from his top lip.
‘You know,’ Joe Naysmith commented, ‘surveillance isn’t a bad idea.’
‘Hey,’ Kaye warned him with a wagging finger, ‘we’re off duty here.’
‘I’m just saying, it’s how we’d normally build a case.’
‘I thought I’d already explained…’ Fox began.
Naysmith nodded. ‘But – correct me if I’m wrong – we’re going to get nowhere otherwise. Say we asked Bob McEwan for permission, set everything up without letting anyone in Fife know. Then, when we get something-’
‘If we get something,’ Fox corrected him.
‘Okay, if we get something-’
‘And it’s a big “if”,’ Kaye added.
‘Yes, but what we’d then do is present it to Fife HQ as a fait accompli.’
‘The boy’s losing me with all these big words,’ Kaye complained to Fox.
‘What makes you think McEwan would agree to it in the first place?’ Fox asked Naysmith.
‘We’d ask him nicely.’
Kaye snorted. ‘Oh aye, he’s a sucker for a kind word.’
‘Like I said,’ Fox told Naysmith, ‘it’d have to be a Fife call.’
‘So where’s the harm in asking them? You must know somebody on the Complaints over there…’
Fox hesitated for a moment before nodding. ‘I doubt we’re in their good books, though. We’re working what should be their patch.’
‘But you do know somebody?’ Naysmith persisted.
‘Yes,’ Fox conceded, turning to look at Kaye.
Kaye shrugged. ‘Can’t see it working.’
‘Surveillance operation needs the okay from upstairs. Haven’t we been saying all along that Glenrothes doesn’t necessarily want us finding anything?’
‘But if they deny their own Complaints department,’ Naysmith argued, ‘that looks bad, too.’
Kaye’s eyes were still on Malcolm Fox. ‘What do you say, Foxy?’
‘It’s a protocol minefield.’
‘First step might not blow us up, though.’
‘Home phones and mobiles,’ Naysmith added, ‘just to hear what Carter’s saying to his pals in CID.’
‘I’ll have a think about it,’ Fox eventually said.
Kaye slapped a hand down on Naysmith’s knee. ‘That means he’s going to do it. Well played, Joseph. And it’s your round, by the way …’
Once home, Fox microwaved another ready-meal and ate it at the table. The TV stayed off. He was lost in thought. After he’d cleaned up, he called his sister and apologised for not getting back to her sooner.
‘Don’t tell me: you’ve been busy?’
‘It happens to be true.’ Fox squeezed the skin at the bridge of his nose.
‘But you did go see Dad?’
‘Last night, as promised. He was back to himself by the time I got there.’
‘We took a look through some of those photographs.’
‘They didn’t upset him?’
‘Not so much, no.’
‘Maybe it’s me, then – is that what you’re getting at? You think I’m overreacting?’
‘No, Jude, I’m sure you’re not. And I saw the pack of pads in the bathroom.’
‘If he starts wetting himself, they’re going to kick him out.’
‘I doubt that.’
‘They’ll want him home with one of us.’
‘It can’t be me, Malcolm! How am I supposed to cope?’
‘They’re not going to get rid of him.’
‘Why? Because you keep coughing up for his bed and board? That’s fine as long as he’s not a bother to them.’
‘Would it put your mind at rest if we went to see them?’
‘You do it – they hate me.’
‘No they don’t.’
‘They treat me like dirt. You don’t see it because you’re the one waving the chequebook. That’s all right, though, isn’t it? You’ll be the one getting the lion’s share of his will. It’s you he likes, the one he’s always talking about when I’m there. Never me – I just fetch and carry, like one of the fucking staff!’
‘Listen to yourself, Jude.’
But instead it was Fox who listened – listened to his sister as her complaints lengthened and intensified. He pictured the photograph of her as a small girl, atop Chris’s shoulders, bursting with carefree energy. Now distilled to this.
Sometimes you have to draw a line…
Fox watched himself lower the telephone receiver back on to its charger. As the connection was made, the line went dead. He drew in his bottom lip, staring at the machine, wondering if it would ring, Jude enraged on the other end.
But it didn’t, so he made himself some tea, considering whether there was anything he could have said to her to make things better – offered to visit his father more often; arranged for the three of them to go to lunch some weekend. It’s you he likes… I just fetch and carry.
With a sigh, he went over to his computer and switched it on, wondering what his search engine could tell him about 1985, while the stinging memory of the phone call began to melt away.
‘You’re not a ghost, then?’
‘Flesh and blood, last time I looked.’
Fox was starting to reach out a hand, but saw she was holding both of hers towards him. He made to grasp them, then realised it was the prelude to a hug. Awkwardly, he hugged her back.
‘Has it been three years or four?’ she asked. Three years or four since their one-night stand at, of all things, a Standards of Conduct conference at Tulliallan Police College.
‘Not quite four. You look just the same.’ He took a step back, the better to judge the truth of this. Her name was Evelyn Mills, much the same age as Fox but wearing the years lightly. She’d been married at the time of their fling, and, by the ring on her left hand, she still was. They were standing on the seafront in Kirkcaldy. There had been a heavy shower earlier, but it had blown over. Thick gobbets of cloud glided overhead. There were a couple of cargo ships on the horizon. Fox took it in, while waiting to see if she had any comment to make about his own appearance.
‘Still in the Complaints, then?’ she asked instead. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and gave a shrug.
‘And you, too.’
‘Mmm…’ She seemed to be studying him intently. Then she linked arms with him and they started walking in silence.
‘Good result for you,’ Fox offered eventually. ‘Paul Carter, I mean.’
‘Wasn’t really us, though, was it? It was down to the witnesses. Even then… different day, different courtroom – it could have swung the other way.’
‘All the same,’ he persisted.
‘All the same… we’re so good at what we do, you have to be hauled here from the bustling metropolis.’
‘Arm’s-length, Evelyn. This way no one can accuse you of looking out for your own.’
‘You think we’d do that?’
‘It wouldn’t be me pointing the finger.’ He paused. ‘If it’s any consolation…’
‘I’m not looking for consolation, Malcolm.’ With her free hand she gave his forearm a squeeze, and he knew she was offering herself as ally rather than foe.
‘Carter is walking the streets,’ Fox said. ‘Did you know that?’
She nodded. They were making towards the dock at the Esplanade’s northern end. There was a solitary fishing boat moored there, but no sign of life apart from some fierce-looking gulls.
‘We’re thinking it might be nice to hear what he says to Scholes and the others.’
‘Home and mobile phones.’
‘Of four detectives?’
‘Three: Carter’s appeal – if he starts one – would have a field day if we eavesdropped on him.’
‘I’m not sure we can stretch to it, Malcolm.’
‘Manpower or resources?’
She exhaled noisily. ‘Both, if I’m being honest. Basically, you’re looking at Fife’s Complaints department. I’m it. I mean, I can always requisition a few bodies in an emergency…’
‘Is that what you did when Alan Carter made the original complaint?’
She nodded, pushing some hair back from her face. ‘Scholes is the one Carter’s close to. If I was going to look at anybody, it would be him.’
‘We saw him leaving Carter’s house yesterday.’
‘You mean the surveillance is up and running?’
Fox shook his head again. ‘We were just passing.’
Her eyes narrowed. ‘Passing through the Dunnikier Estate?’
‘In a manner of speaking.’
She scrutinised his face, then gave a short laugh. ‘God, the things we do,’ she said. He wasn’t sure if she meant their job or was thinking back to that night in Tulliallan; best, he felt, not to risk asking.
‘You know I’d need to go to my boss?’ she said after a moment’s thought. ‘And he’d have to go to his boss?’
‘And I’m allowed to tell them it’s your idea?’
He nodded again.
‘All this, just to prove whether or not some colleagues stuck up for one of their own?’
‘Perjuring themselves in the process,’ Fox reminded her.
She ran her finger down the bridge of her nose, a nose Fox suddenly remembered kissing. She’d had a lot to drink at the bar that night. He’d been the sober one, the one who should have seen her only as far as her bedroom door. But she’d had a kettle in her room. And sachets of instant coffee. And a narrow single bed…
‘What do you think?’ he asked her now.
‘I think it’s freezing out here.’
‘Whatever your answer is, thanks for meeting with me.’
This time she patted his arm, and they turned to walk back to her car. Having reached it in silence, she asked him where he had parked. He nodded in the vague direction of the town centre. She unlocked her car and got in. It was an Alfa Romeo with a dark-blue interior.
Fox closed the door for her and watched her start the ignition. The window slid downwards and she peered up at him. ‘I was at Fettes a few months back, running an errand. I considered knocking on your door.’
‘You should have.’
She released the brake, gave him a wave, and was gone. Fox stayed where he was until he couldn’t see the car any more, then crossed the street and headed for the cafe in the Mercat shopping centre. Kaye and Naysmith were waiting there, drinking coffee and reading their chosen newspapers: Guardian for Naysmith, Daily Record for Kaye.
‘Don’t order anything,’ Kaye warned Fox. ‘Not a patch on the other place.’
‘Closer to the car, though,’ Fox reminded him. Kaye’s eyes were fixed on him, awaiting his report.
‘It’s a “maybe”,’ he obliged, squeezing into the booth. Kaye’s nostrils flared and he leaned over to sniff Fox’s coat. ‘Chanel Number 5, unless I’m losing my touch. Your contact’s not a bloke, then.’
‘Now who’s Hercule Poirot?’ Joe Naysmith muttered, not bothering to look up from his reading.
Not the interview room. Teresa Collins had been insistent. In fact, nowhere near ‘that stinking place’, which was why Fox had suggested her home. It was the upper storey of a maisonette in Gallatown. Gary Michaelson had hinted it might not be the town’s most salubrious area. Actually, it looked all right to Fox: there were plenty worse in Edinburgh. Terraced and semi-detached houses, many of them split. Pebble-dashed walls and plenty of satellite dishes. Young mothers, some pregnant again, pushed their baby buggies while talking into their phones. A few teenage lads in baseball caps scowled as the Mondeo drew to a halt kerb-side, and made intuitive grunting noises as the three men stepped out. Fox pressed the bell marked ‘Collins’.
‘It’s open!’ a voice yelled.
Fox turned the handle and started climbing the steep flight of stairs. Someone on the ground floor was hosting a party.
‘Eminem,’ Naysmith stated.
‘Just sounds like noise to me,’ Tony Kaye muttered.
Teresa Collins was seated in an armchair in her uncluttered living room, dangling one leg over the side and with a lit cigarette in her mouth. She wore black Lycra leggings and a purple T-shirt with the words Porn Star picked out in diamante.
‘No need to spruce yourself up on our account,’ Kaye told her, examining a 3-D poster of Beyonce above the fireplace. The music from downstairs was causing the windowpanes to vibrate.
‘I forgot to ask,’ Collins said. ‘Should I maybe have called my lawyer?’
‘You’re the victim here,’ Fox reminded her, introducing himself, Kaye and Naysmith. There was one other armchair, but it was piled high with laundry. When it came to underwear, Teresa Collins seemed to favour the thong.
‘Victim is right,’ she said, taking another drag on the cigarette. There was a flat-screen TV and Freeview box in one corner of the room. On an otherwise empty bookcase sat the dock and speakers for an MP3 player. The beige carpet had collected an impressive number of ash burns.
‘Everybody needs good neighbours, eh?’ Kaye announced, thumping the floor with the heel of his shoe.
‘They’re all right.’ The foot hanging over the arm of the chair was keeping time, while Collins’s other knee pumped furiously.
‘Few uppers to counteract the methadone?’ Fox guessed.
‘You won’t find anything that’s not prescribed,’ she snapped back.
‘We’re not looking for anything. As I said on the phone, it’s Carter’s colleagues we’re checking.’
‘So you say.’
‘It’d be nice if you believed me.’
She looked like she was having trouble focusing on him. ‘Go ahead, then,’ she said at last. ‘Ask me the same bloody questions…’
‘DI Carter used to come here?’
‘Some of your neighbours saw him?’
‘They said so, didn’t they?’
‘Wasn’t very discreet of him. What about his colleagues – they never came in?’
‘Scholes did, one time. But that was early days, when they were wanting me to be a grass.’
‘Scholes was never here when Carter was after one of these “favours”?’
She shook her head. ‘Might’ve waited in the car.’ She was looking agitated. ‘When you lot got wise, it was Scholes who phoned me, tried to warn me off.’
‘I know it can’t be easy, going back over this.’
‘I thought it was done with. Is this what happens now? He’s going down, so you lot keep persecuting me till I go off my head or do myself in?’
Fox didn’t answer for a moment. ‘You know there are charities that can help, numbers you can phone?’
‘Rape Crisis? All that lot?’ She shook her head determinedly. ‘I just want left alone.’ She exhaled a plume of smoke and brushed flecks of ash from her T-shirt. ‘Now he’s inside, that’s all I’m asking…’
‘What if he’s not inside?’ As soon as the words were out of Naysmith’s mouth, he knew he’d made a mistake: the combined glower from Fox and Kaye intimated as much.
‘You mean he’s out?’ The pale eyes in the paler face had widened.
‘You should have been told,’ Fox said quietly.
‘He’s…?’ Collins got to her feet and padded over to the window, staring down on to the street.
‘He’s been warned not to come within half a mile of you,’ Fox tried to reassure her. ‘If he does, he’s back inside pronto.’
‘Well that’s just dandy,’ she said, voice heavy with sarcasm. ‘Carter’s bound to stick to that, isn’t he? Law-abiding prick like him …’
She spun away from the window. ‘What if I say it’s all a lie? I made it up to get him into bother?’
‘Then you’ll be the one under lock and key,’ Fox cautioned her. He placed his business card on the arm of the chair. ‘My number’s there – any sign of him, call me.’
‘You’re here to threaten me,’ Teresa Collins stated, pointing a trembling finger. ‘Three of you – that’s intimidation enough. Plus your story about him being out… This is me being told, isn’t it? Scholes and Haldane and Michaelson, and now you three.’
‘I can assure you we’re-’
‘I’ll go to the papers! That’s what I’ll do! I’ll scream blue murder.’
‘Will you calm down, Teresa?’ Fox had his hands held up in a show of surrender. He took a step forwards, but she had spun round again and pulled the window open.
‘Help!’ she screamed. ‘Somebody help me!’
Fox saw that Kaye was looking at him, waiting for a decision.
‘I’ll call you,’ Fox told Collins, raising his voice in the hope she might hear. ‘Later, when you’ve had a chance to…’
He signalled to Kaye and Naysmith that they were leaving. The neighbours upstairs were looking down at them from the landing.
‘She’s hysterical,’ Fox explained, starting his descent. Nobody from the ground-floor party had heard – or if they had, they couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it. But the kids were outside on the pavement, facing Fox and his colleagues as they emerged. Fox had his warrant card out for them to see.
‘Back off,’ he told them.
‘Youse’ve raped her,’ one voice said accusingly.
‘She’s just upset.’
‘Aye, and who did that, eh? Youse did…’
‘For Christ’s sake,’ Tony Kaye burst out. ‘Look at my car!’
The contents of a waste bin had been tipped over the bonnet and windscreen: fast-food cartons, cigarette butts, crushed beer cans, and what looked like the remains of a dead pigeon.
‘Car wash down the road, only three quid,’ one of the gang suggested.
‘Five if you tell them you’re a pig,’ another added.
There was laughter, for which Fox was grateful. The situation was being defused – and Teresa Collins had stopped yelling and closed her window.
Tony Kaye, however, looked furious. He lunged at the youths, Fox hauling him back by his arm.
‘Easy, Tony, easy. Let’s just get out of here, eh?’
‘But these wee wankers-’
‘In the car,’ Fox commanded. Kaye waited another couple of beats before complying, using the wipers to brush aside some of the debris, and reversing hard to dislodge more from the bonnet.
‘Swear to God I’m coming back here with a bat,’ he muttered, as the gang jogged along by the side of the car, giving it the occasional kick or slap. He revved the engine and shot away in first, doing a U-turn that got rid of almost all the remaining rubbish.
‘Forget it, Kaye,’ Joe Naysmith said. ‘It’s Gallatown.’
‘Think you’re funny, eh?’ Tony Kaye leaned over and gave him a hard punch to the side of his head. ‘Laugh now, ya wee shite-bag…’
‘That was quick,’ Malcolm Fox said into his phone. Evelyn Mills was on the other end of the line. The eavesdropping operation had been given the green light.
‘My boss decided we didn’t need to refer it upwards,’ she explained.
‘My guess is, he reckons it might have been knocked back.’
‘I like the sound of your boss.’
‘He reminds me a bit of you, actually.’
‘Then I’m flattered. How long till you’re operational?’
‘Need a telephone engineer to help us with the landline.’
‘I’ve got help: two youngsters from CID. Mobile phone will take longer – first things we’ll have access to are numbers called and calls received…’ She broke off. ‘You know all this already.’
He heard her give a short sigh. ‘It’ll be end of play today for the landline; some time tomorrow for everything else. Unlikely Scholes would bother e-mailing Carter, so I was going to skip the key-stroke surveillance.’
‘Fine by me. And thanks again, Evelyn.’
‘It’s what neglected friends are for, right?’
‘Just one thing, though – Scholes isn’t an idiot. Might explain why he went to Carter’s house. It keeps their conversation private. Could be all we end up with are texts to arrange more meetings.’
She gave another sigh. ‘Of course you do. I keep forgetting how much alike we are. Maybe that’s why we hit it off that time.’
‘Are you sure you want to say any more? This may not be as secure a line as we’d like.’
She was chuckling as Fox wrapped up the call.
‘Sounds like a result,’ Kaye commented. All three of them were crammed into the storeroom, door slightly ajar, Joe Naysmith keeping watch for spies and dawdlers.
‘Everything should be up and running by tomorrow. Home phone could even be tonight.’
‘That’s efficient. Care to share the secret of your success?’
‘Just her name, then.’
‘Plus,’ Naysmith added, turning towards his colleagues, ‘whatever it was you thought she shouldn’t be saying over a non-secure line.’ He jumped as someone thumped on the door, pushing it open. Superintendent Pitkethly stood there, face like thunder.
‘Would I be right in thinking the three of you just paid Teresa Collins a visit?’
Fox rose to his feet. ‘She’s made a complaint?’ he guessed.
‘In a manner of speaking. They found your name on a business card on her chair – when they went in with the stretcher.’
She saw immediately the effect her words had had, and kept quiet for a moment, the better to savour the discomfort on the three faces.
‘A passer-by saw her at her window, smearing blood on it from her wrists. He called the paramedics.’
All three men were standing now, eyes on Pitkethly. Kaye was the first to speak.
‘She’s in hospital. Wounds don’t look too bad. Question is: what drove her to it? From the look of you, I’d say I’ve got my answer.’
‘She was hysterical,’ Naysmith blurted out. ‘We left her to it…’
‘Having calmed her down first, obviously,’ Pitkethly said, twisting the knife. ‘I mean, this is a woman who’s had a traumatic experience. Fragile enough to begin with, and with a history of drug use. I’m assuming you didn’t just walk away?’
‘We don’t answer to you,’ Fox stated, regaining a little of his composure.
‘You might have to, though.’
‘We’ll make our report.’
‘And will there be conferring beforehand?’ This question came from DCI Peter Laird, who had just arrived at Pitkethly’s shoulder. Fox sensed that there were other spectators in the corridor. He pushed past Pitkethly and saw that he was right. Laird wasn’t bothering to suppress his pleasure at this turn of events.
‘I mean,’ Laird went on, folding his arms, ‘you’ll want to make sure you’ve got your stories straight.’
‘She’s going to be all right, though?’ Joe Naysmith was asking Pitkethly.
‘Bit late to be showing concern,’ she answered him. Fox got right into her face.
‘Enough,’ he said. Then, to Kaye and Naysmith: ‘We’re out of here.’
‘Going so soon?’ Laird was waving with the fingers of one hand as they stalked down the corridor.
‘I’ll need those statements,’ Pitkethly called after them.
As Fox pushed open the door to the outside world, he saw Scholes hurrying in from the car park.
‘Looks like I missed the fun,’ he said with a grin. Fox ignored him, but Kaye gave him a shoulder-charge that almost felled him. Scholes didn’t react. His laughter followed them to the Mondeo.
‘Where to?’ Kaye asked.
‘Home,’ Fox stated.
They didn’t say anything for the first few miles. It was Naysmith who broke the silence. ‘Poor woman.’
Kaye just nodded.
‘Reckon we should have stayed?’
Kaye looked to Fox, but saw he wasn’t going to answer. He was staring out of the passenger-side window, forehead almost touching it.
‘I can’t see that we did anything wrong,’ Kaye announced, trying for more certainty than he felt. ‘We were the ones making her frantic, so we left.’
‘But it was me, wasn’t it? Telling her Carter was out…’
‘Wasn’t our job to keep the facts from her, Joe.’
‘You sound,’ Fox interrupted, ‘as if you’ve already got your report off-pat.’
‘It was her way of crying out for help,’ Kaye persisted. ‘We’ve all seen them.’
‘I haven’t,’ Naysmith corrected him.
‘You know the type, though. If she’d really wanted to top herself, she wouldn’t have stood at the window like that, showing all and sundry what she’d done.’
‘What if nobody’d been passing, though?’
‘Then she’d have phoned herself an ambulance. Like I say, it happens.’
‘I can’t help thinking-’
‘Then don’t think!’ Kaye snapped at Naysmith. ‘Let’s just get back to civilisation and write up what happened.’ He looked towards Fox again. ‘Come on, Malcolm, back me up here. She could have snapped any time, just our bad luck it happened when it did.’
‘We could have tried calming her down.’
‘In case you’ve forgotten, she was screaming fit to burst. Two more minutes in there and every nut-job in the neighbourhood would have had us cornered.’ Kaye kneaded the steering wheel with both hands. ‘I can’t see that we did anything wrong,’ he repeated.
Fox saw that they were on the M90 again and had already passed Inverkeithing.
‘I need you to do me a favour,’ he said quietly.
‘There’s a lay-by just before the bridge. Pull in and let me out.’
‘You going to be sick?’
Fox shook his head.
‘Just pull over.’
Kaye signalled to move into the inside lane, saw the signpost for the lay-by and signalled again. It was an area for large loads to stop, preparatory to being escorted to the other side of the estuary. Fox got out of the car and felt the fast-moving stream of traffic attempting to suck him on to the carriageway. There was a pavement, though, and it led to a walkway that crossed the road bridge.
‘You’re kidding,’ Kaye called out to him.
‘I need some air, that’s all.’
‘What the hell are we supposed to do?’
‘Wait for me on the other side, as near to the old tollbooths as you can get.’
‘Want me to come with you?’ Naysmith asked, but Fox shook his head and slammed shut the door, turning his collar up. He had walked thirty or forty yards before a break in the traffic allowed the Mondeo to pass him with a single toot of its horn. Fox waved at it and kept walking. He had never crossed the Forth Road Bridge like this before. He knew people did it all the time: joggers and tourists. The noise from the carriageway was punishing, and the drop to the Firth of Forth seemed vertiginous, but Fox kept going, drawing in lungfuls of fumy air. There was a dog-walker coming from the opposite direction. She wore a scarf tied tightly over her hair, and offered him a nod and a smile, neither of which he returned with any degree of success. To his left he could see the rail bridge, much of it under wraps for maintenance. There were islands down there, too, and over to the right the port of Rosyth. The wind was ripping at his ears, but he felt it was as much as he deserved. Kaye was right, of course: a cry for help rather than a serious effort. But all the same. They’d dropped a bomb on her with the news of Paul Carter, then simply walked away. No call to social services or whoever else might willingly check on her. A neighbour? A relative in the area? No, they’d cared more for their own skins and that bloody Mondeo.
Fox hadn’t encountered too much violence or tragedy during his years on the force. A few drunken fights to break up when he’d been in uniform; a couple of bad murder cases in CID. Part of the appeal of the Complaints had been its focus on rules broken rather than bones, on cops who crossed the line but were not violent men. Did that make him a coward? He didn’t think so. Less of a copper? Again, no. But it was in his nature to avoid confrontation, or ensure it didn’t well up in the first place – which was why he felt he had failed with Teresa Collins. Every moment of his time with her could have been played differently, and with a better outcome.
Fox rubbed his hands down either side of his face as he walked. His pace was quickening, the wind growing more biting still as he reached the halfway point. He was in the middle of the Firth of Forth now, steel cables holding him aloft. He was depending on them to do their job and not suddenly snap. Without knowing why he was doing it, he broke into a run – jogging at first, but then speeding up. When had he last run anywhere? He couldn’t remember. The sprint lasted only a few tens of metres, and he was breathing hard by the end of it. Two proper joggers gave him a lengthy examination as they passed.
‘I’m all right,’ he told them with a wave of his hand.
Maybe he believed it, too. He took out his phone and snapped the view, just so he wouldn’t forget. South Queensferry was below him now, with its blustery yachts and boat trips out to Inchcolm Abbey. He started looking for the Mondeo ahead of him, but couldn’t see it. Had they had enough and left him to it? He double-checked the few parked vehicles, then heard a horn behind him and turned to see Kaye pulling in, having just crossed the bridge.
Fox opened the passenger-side door. ‘How did you manage that?’ he asked.
‘Joe here got worried you might be going to jump,’ Kaye explained. ‘So we went round the roundabout, crossed back over into Fife, did the same at the other end… and here we are.’
‘Nice to know you care.’
‘It was Joe, remember – I’d have left you to it.’
Fox smiled, got in and fastened his seat belt. ‘Thanks anyway,’ he said.
‘Nice walk?’ Naysmith asked from the back seat.
‘Cleared my head a bit.’
‘And?’ Kaye asked.
‘And I’m fine.’
‘We could have sworn we saw you jogging.’
Fox gave Tony Kaye a hard stare. ‘Do I look the type?’
Kaye smiled with half his mouth. ‘Wouldn’t have said so.’
‘Then I wasn’t jogging, was I?’
‘That’s your version of events, Inspector.’ Kaye glanced at Joe Naysmith in the rear-view mirror. ‘We’ll always have ours. But in the meantime, can I assume we’re headed back to base?’
‘Unless you want to visit a car-wash first.’ Fox watched Kaye shake his head. ‘Okay then. Let’s see if the news gets to Bob McEwan before we do…’
‘Well now,’ McEwan said, as they walked into the office. He was leaning with the small of his back against Fox’s desk, hands in his pockets.
‘You’ve heard, then.’
‘Deputy Chief Constable of Fife Constabulary – the very man who asked for our help in the first place.’
‘But he’s pleased with the rest of our progress?’ Kaye commented.
‘Not the place for wisecracks, Sergeant Kaye,’ McEwan snapped back. ‘Suppose one of you tells me what in God’s name happened.’
‘We went to interview her at her home,’ Fox began. ‘She learned Carter was no longer in custody and threw a wobbly.’
‘We decided our presence wasn’t helping,’ Kaye added. ‘Discretion being the better part of valour and all that.’
‘What state was she in when you left?’
‘She was a bit shaky.’ Naysmith decided to answer.
‘A bit shaky?’ McEwan echoed. ‘Not the screaming abdabs neighbours claim to have heard?’
‘She did do some shouting,’ Fox conceded.
‘About police intimidation?’
‘She misread the situation, sir.’
‘Sounds to me like she wasn’t the only one.’ McEwan pinched the bridge of his nose, screwing his eyes shut. He spoke without opening them. ‘This gives them a bit of ammo – you know that?’
‘Does the Deputy want us replaced?’
‘I think he’s weighing it up.’
‘She wouldn’t agree to be interviewed at the station, Bob,’ Fox explained calmly. ‘We had to go to her.’
McEwan opened his eyes again, blinking as if to regain some focus. ‘You told her Carter was out?’
‘That was my fault,’ Naysmith admitted. McEwan gave a little nod of acknowledgement.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘best get your side of the story down on paper and we’ll see what Glenrothes thinks. Anything else I should know?’
Fox and Kaye exchanged a look.
‘No, sir,’ Fox stated.
News of the surveillance operation on Scholes could wait: one little bombshell at a time was probably enough for the boss.
Later, Fox went to the canteen for coffee, and remembered when he got there that he’d not had anything since breakfast. Egg-and-cress sandwiches were all that remained of the lunch offerings, so he added one to his tray, along with a Kit Kat and a Golden Delicious. When his phone rang, he thought about not answering, but checked the display and recognised the caller.
‘Hiya, Evelyn,’ he said.
‘Ouch,’ Mills said.
‘You’ve heard, then?’
‘Not much else being talked about here. Local press seem to be on to it too. You know how that lot will twist it.’
‘They can try.’
‘Did she seem suicidal?’
‘No more than any of us.’ Fox wiped melted chocolate from his fingers on to a napkin. ‘Are you still going to be able to help?’
‘Will you still be around for me to help?’
‘In that case… we’ll see.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means my boss might get cold feet.’
‘Buy him some socks.’
There was silence on the line until she asked him how he was feeling.
‘You don’t exactly sound it.’
‘I’ll be all right.’ He looked down at his tray. Only one bite was missing from the sandwich, but the Kit Kat was history. The coffee had an oily sheen to it, and he didn’t feel like starting on the apple.
‘All you can do is tell them the truth,’ Mills was saying. ‘Give your side of the story.’
He could have told her: that was the problem, right there. Every story had a number of sides; your version might differ from everyone else’s. Back in Collins’s flat, had they been pragmatic, cowardly or callous? Others would decide the truth of it – and that might not be the truth at all.
‘I’m still here.’
‘Do you want someone to talk to? We could meet for a drink.’
‘I don’t drink.’
‘Since when?’ She sounded genuinely surprised.
‘Long before I met you.’
‘I must have forgotten.’ She paused. ‘We could still meet, though.’
‘Another time, eh?’ Fox thanked her and ended the call, then started rolling the apple across the table, from left hand to right and back again.
Nobody suggested a trip to Minter’s after work. But as they left the office, Naysmith did something out of the ordinary – reached out his hand for Fox and Kaye to shake. Only afterwards did Fox see it as a reinforcement of the notion that they comprised a team. He drove his Volvo out of the car park and headed for home. He’d almost reached Oxgangs when he found himself turning towards the ring road instead. It was rush-hour busy, but he wasn’t in a hurry, not now that he had made up his mind. He followed the signs for the Forth Road Bridge.
They had passed the Victoria Hospital on one of their drives around Kirkcaldy. It resembled a building site, because it was one, a shiny new edifice near to completion standing next to the old original complex. Fox showed his ID at reception and gave them Teresa Collins’s name. He was told which ward to go to and pointed in the direction of the lifts. He eventually found himself at a nurses’ station.
‘No visitors,’ came the reply when he asked for Teresa, so he showed his ID again.
‘I don’t want to disturb her if she’s awake,’ he explained.
The nurse stared at him, wondering, perhaps, what use Teresa would be to him asleep. But eventually she said she would check. He thanked her and watched her go. Behind him, a row of half a dozen hard plastic chairs sat next to the ward’s swing doors. A young man had been sitting there, busy texting with his thumb. He was on his feet now, crossing to the dispenser on the wall opposite and treating himself to some of the antibacterial hand foam.
‘Can’t be too careful,’ he said, rubbing his palms together.
‘True,’ Fox agreed.
‘Police?’ the young man guessed.
‘And you are…?’
‘You look like police, and I pride myself on knowing most of the CID faces around here. Edinburgh, is it? Professional Standards? Heard you were in town.’ He was doing something with his phone’s screen. When he held it out in front of him, Fox realised it doubled as a recording device.
The sandy-haired young man in the black anorak was a reporter.
‘If you don’t mind me asking, were you at Teresa Collins’s flat earlier today?’
Fox stood his ground, saying nothing.
‘I’ve got descriptions of three plain-clothes police officers…’ The journalist looked him up and down. ‘You’re a dead ringer for one of them. Inspector Malcolm Fox?’ As hard as he tried, something in Fox’s expression must have changed. The journalist gave a lopsided smile. ‘It was on a card left on the armchair,’ he offered by way of explanation.
‘How about a name for you?’ Fox asked in an undertone.
‘I’m Brian Jamieson.’
‘Sometimes. Can I ask you what happened in the flat?’
‘But you were there?’ He waited a few moments for an answer. ‘And now you’re here…’
Fox turned and walked in the direction the nurse had taken. She appeared around a corner.
‘Drowsy from the sedative,’ she informed him. Fox checked that Jamieson wasn’t in earshot, but kept his voice just audible in any case.
‘She’s all right, though?’
‘A few stitches. We’ll just keep her the one night. Psychological Services will assess her in the morning.’
After which, Fox knew, she’d either be sent home or transferred elsewhere.
‘If you wait twenty minutes,’ the nurse added, ‘she may well drift off.’
Fox glanced in Jamieson’s direction. ‘You know he’s a reporter?’
She followed his look, then nodded.
‘What’s he been asking you?’
‘I’ve not told him anything.’
‘Can’t security kick him off the ward?’
She turned her attention back to Fox. ‘He’s not being a nuisance.’
‘Has he asked to speak to her?’
‘He’s been told it’s not going to happen.’
‘So why is he still here?’
The nurse’s tone grew cooler. ‘Why don’t you ask him? Now, if you’ll excuse me…’ She brushed past him and returned to her desk, where a phone was ringing. Fox stood there a further thirty seconds or so. Jamieson was back in his chair, busy texting. He looked up as Fox approached.
‘What are you expecting to get from her?’ Fox asked.
‘That’s the very question I was about to put to you, Inspector.’
‘Not another one!’ the nurse was complaining into the receiver. When she saw that they were watching her, she turned away, cupping a hand over the handset. Jamieson had been about to push his phone’s mic in Fox’s direction again, but he lowered his arm instead. Then he turned and started to leave. Fox stayed where he was. The nurse was ending the call, shaking her head slowly.
‘What’s up?’ Fox asked.
‘A man’s just tried to do away with himself,’ she answered. ‘Might not pull through.’
‘Hopefully not a normal night,’ Fox offered. She puffed out her cheeks and exhaled.
‘Two a year would be more like it.’ She noticed Jamieson’s absence. ‘Has he gone?’
‘I think you did that.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘He’ll be down at A and E, if I know Brian.’
‘Sounds like you do know him.’
‘Used to go out with a friend of mine.’
‘Who does he work for?’
‘All sorts. What is it he calls himself…?’
‘That’s it.’ Her phone was ringing again. She made an exasperated sound and picked the receiver up. Fox considered his options, gave a little bow in her direction, and headed for the lifts.
Downstairs, he got a plastic bottle of Irn-Bru from the vending machine. No sugar tomorrow, he promised himself, heading outside. The sky overhead was black. Fox knew there was nothing for him to do now but drive home. He wondered if the budget for the investigation might stretch to a local hotel room. He’d spotted a place behind the railway station, not far from the park and the football ground. It would save the commute next morning – but then what would he do with himself the rest of tonight? Italian restaurant… maybe a pub… There were some ambulances parked up outside the hospital entrance. A couple of green-uniformed paramedics were shooing Brian Jamieson away. The reporter held up his hands in surrender and turned away, pressing his phone to his ear.
‘All I know is, he tried blowing his brains out. Can’t have been much of a shot, because he was still alive on the way here. Not so sure now, though…’ Jamieson saw that he was about to pass Malcolm Fox. ‘Hang on a sec,’ he said into the phone. It seemed he was about to share the news, but Fox stopped him.
‘I heard,’ he said.
‘Hellish thing.’ Jamieson was shaking his head. His eyes were wide and unblinking, brain racing.
‘Many guns in Kirkcaldy?’ Fox asked.
‘Might have been a farmer. They keep guns, don’t they?’ He saw that Fox was looking at him. ‘It was outside town,’ he explained. ‘Somewhere off the Burntisland road.’
Fox tried to stop himself looking interested. ‘Got a name for the victim?’
Jamieson shook his head and glanced back towards the paramedics. ‘I’ll get one, though.’ He offered Fox the same self-confident smile as before. ‘Just you watch me.’
Fox did watch him. Watched him make for the doors to the hospital, the phone to his ear again. Only when he had disappeared inside did Fox walk quickly towards his own car.
The police cordon was at the junction of the main road and the track to Alan Carter’s cottage. Fox felt acid gathering somewhere between his stomach and his throat. He cursed under his breath, pulled in to the side of the road and got out. The parked patrol car had its roof lights on, strobing the night with a cold, electric blue. The solitary uniform was trying to tie crime-scene tape between the posts either side of the track. The wind had whipped one end of the roll from his grasp and he was fighting to control it. Fox already had his warrant card out.
‘Inspector Fox,’ he told the uniform. Then: ‘Before you do that, I need to get past.’
He returned to his car and watched the uniform move the patrol car forward, leaving space for Fox’s Volvo to squeeze through. Fox offered a wave and started the slow climb uphill.
There were lights on in the cottage and just the one car outside, Carter’s own Land Rover. As Fox closed the door of the Volvo, he heard a voice call out:
‘What the hell are you doing here?’
Ray Scholes was standing in the doorway, hands in pockets.
‘Is it Alan Carter?’ Fox asked.
‘What if it is?’
‘I was out here yesterday.’
‘Regular bloody Jonah, then, aren’t you?’
‘What happened?’ Fox was standing directly in front of Scholes, peering past him into the hallway.
‘Had a good go at topping himself.’
‘Why would he do that?’
‘If I lived out here, I might do the same.’ Scholes sniffed the air, looked at Fox again, and relented, turning and heading indoors.
Fox himself hesitated. ‘Don’t we need…?’ He looked down at Scholes’s feet.
‘Not a crime scene, is it?’ Scholes answered, walking into the living room. ‘Cordon’s just to stop weirdos drifting up here for a gawp. Thing I’m wondering is, what are we going to do about the dog?’
Fox had reached the doorway of the living room. The fire had been reduced to a few embers. To the left of it, Jimmy Nicholl lay panting in his basket, eyes open just a fraction. Fox crouched down and stroked the old dog’s head and back.
‘No note,’ Scholes commented, popping a strip of chewing gum into his mouth. ‘Not that I can see, anyway.’ He waved a hand across the dining table. ‘Hard to tell with all this mess…’
Papers strewn everywhere, removed from their folders. Crumpled, some torn into strips, others swept to the floor. Those left on the table were spotted with blood, a darker pool where Carter had been seated on his chair.
‘Gun?’ Fox said quietly, his mouth dry.
Scholes nodded towards the table. It was half-hidden beneath a magazine. Looked to Fox’s untrained eye like an old-style revolver.
‘How was he when you spoke to him?’ Scholes asked.
‘He seemed fine.’
‘Until you came calling, eh?’
Fox ignored this. ‘Who found him?’
‘Pal of his. Makes the regular walk from Kinghorn. They neck a few glasses of whisky and off he toddles. Only today he comes waltzing in and finds this. Poor old bastard…’
Fox wanted to sit down, but couldn’t. He didn’t know why; it just felt wrong. Scholes’s phone rang. He listened for a moment, gave a grunt, then ended the call.
‘Died in the ambulance,’ he said.
The two men fell silent. The only sound was the dog’s laboured breathing.
‘The pair of you talked about Paul?’ Scholes asked eventually.
Fox ignored the question. ‘Where’s this pal now?’
‘Michaelson’s running him home.’ Scholes checked his watch. ‘Wish he’d hurry up – there’s a beer waiting for me in the pub.’
‘You knew Alan Carter – doesn’t it bother you?’
Scholes continued chewing the gum as he met Fox’s eyes. ‘It bothers me,’ he said. ‘What is it you want to see – wailing and gnashing of teeth? Should I be waving my fist at the skies? He was a cop…’ He paused. ‘Then he wasn’t. And now he’s dead. Good luck to him, wherever he is.’
‘He was also Paul Carter’s uncle.’
‘That he was.’
‘And the first complainant.’
‘Maybe that’s why he did it – an overwhelming sense of guilt. We can play the amateur psychology game all night if you like. Except here’s my lift.’
Fox heard it too: engine noise as a car approached the cottage.
‘What are you going to do?’ he asked. ‘Just shut the place up?’
‘I wasn’t planning on bunking down. We’ve had a look and seen what’s to be seen – uniforms can take it from here.’
‘And next of kin…?’
Scholes shrugged. ‘Might even be Paul.’
‘Have you told him?’
Scholes nodded. ‘He’ll be here.’
‘How did he sound when you told him?’
There was silence in the room as Scholes stared at Fox. ‘Why don’t you just piss off back to Edinburgh? Because if I were you, I wouldn’t be here when Paul arrives.’
‘But you’re not staying? I thought he was your mate.’
Scholes cocked his head, having obviously just thought of something. ‘Hang on a sec – what are you doing here in the first place?’
‘That’s none of your business.’
‘Is that right?’ Scholes raised an eyebrow. ‘I’ll make sure to put that in the report.’ He paused. ‘Underlined. In bold.’
Gary Michaelson was standing on the threshold of the room, glaring at Fox. ‘Thought there was a bad smell,’ he said. Then, to Scholes: ‘What’re you doing letting him tramp all over a crime scene?’
‘Carter’s pal says he’d never have done himself in. Says they’d talked about it, what they’d do if they ever got cancer or something. Carter told the guy he’d cling on for dear life.’
‘Something changed his mind,’ Scholes speculated.
‘And there’s another thing – pal says he’d’ve known if Carter owned a gun. Something else they talked about – shooting the seagulls for the noise they made.’ Michaelson looked towards the basket. ‘What are we doing about the dog?’
‘You want it?’ Scholes asked. ‘Do we even know its name?’
‘Jimmy Nicholl,’ Fox said. ‘He’s called Jimmy Nicholl.’
The dog’s ears pricked up.
‘Jimmy Nicholl,’ Scholes echoed, folding his arms. ‘Owner might’ve done the decent thing and taken you with him, eh, Jimmy?’ Then, to Michaelson: ‘We ready for the off?’
Fox was torn between staying and going, but Scholes was not going to give him the choice. ‘Out, out, out,’ he said.
‘The dog,’ Fox remonstrated.
‘You want it?’
‘Leave it to the professionals, then.’
They emerged to blue flashing lights: another patrol car, with an unmarked van behind it.
‘It’s all yours,’ Scholes called to the driver at the front. But there was manoeuvring to be done: too many vehicles in a tight space. Someone had the idea of unlocking the gate to the neighbouring field. A bit of reversing, a three-point turn, and they were on their way. Scholes and Michaelson had made sure Fox’s Volvo was in front. As they approached the main road, the same constable as before undid the cordon to let them through. There was a white scooter parked next to his car. Brian Jamieson sat astride it, one foot on the tarmac for the sake of balance. He was on his phone again, pausing as he recognised the driver of the Volvo. Fox kept his eyes on the road ahead, Scholes and Michaelson tailing him for the first couple of miles, just to make sure.
‘A right little Jonah.’
Fox gave Tony Kaye a look. ‘That’s what Scholes said, too.’
It was the following morning and they were back in Kirkcaldy. They’d ruled out ever using the storeroom again, so had commandeered the interview room.
‘We’ll be needing it all day,’ Fox had informed the desk sergeant. The man had put up no resistance, just nodded and gone back to his paperwork.
Fox had wondered about that: no gloating over Teresa Collins? ‘No,’ he’d said out loud, once seated in the interview room. The man’s in mourning…
‘No?’ Joe Naysmith had echoed, arriving with a spare chair from the storeroom.
‘Never mind,’ Fox had said.
Kaye had been out to a cafe and fetched them cardboard beakers of coffee. Fox had phoned him the previous night to tell him about Alan Carter.
‘Coincidence?’ Kaye had asked, getting right to the heart of it.
‘Got to be coincidence,’ Naysmith said now, prising the top from his cup and adding a couple of thimble-sized cartons of milk.
‘I don’t know,’ Fox countered. ‘Scholes said something last night about guilt. Maybe he got wind that his nephew was out and might be lodging an appeal.’
‘So he went and stuck a pistol to his head?’ Kaye said, his tone one of disbelief.
‘Revolver,’ Fox corrected him.
‘Must be more to it than that, Malcolm.’
‘Or less,’ Naysmith added.
‘You didn’t tape your interview with him, did you?’ Kaye was asking Fox.
‘Wasn’t as formal as an interview… but the answer’s no.’
‘Reckon it might take some heat off? With this to occupy them, maybe Teresa Collins will stop being the headline.’
‘Nobody’s spoken to you?’
Fox shook his head. ‘Far as I know, we’re still on the case.’
‘Such as it is.’
Fox allowed the point with a shrug of his shoulders.
‘So what are we doing today?’ Naysmith asked.
‘Good question.’ Kaye scratched his head. ‘Foxy?’
‘There are two more victims we could talk to.’ Fox wasn’t managing to sound enthusiastic.
‘The drunken lassies?’ Kaye sounded keener. ‘That’s a point.’
‘What about the surveillance?’ Naysmith added.
‘Might be up and running,’ Fox conceded.
‘Or we just sit in here all day scratching our arses,’ Kaye offered. ‘I’ve a pack of cards in the Mondeo somewhere…’
‘There are heaps of questions still to ask DI Scholes,’ Naysmith reminded them. ‘We’d hardly started when he got called away.’
‘That’s true.’ Fox finished his coffee, trying to locate any flavour at all in the final mouthful.
‘And DCI Laird needs another going at,’ Kaye added. ‘Even if he gives us hee-haw.’
‘I hate to mention it,’ Naysmith added, ‘but we’re not really finished with Teresa Collins, either…’
‘Leave her for now,’ Fox cautioned.
‘Scholes, then?’ Kaye was making to rise to his feet. ‘Want me to fetch him?’
‘I’ll do it, Tony. You finish your drink.’
But as he headed for the stairs, Fox saw the unmistakable shape of Ray Scholes walking in the other direction. He was with a stooped elderly man, his hand resting lightly across the man’s shoulders. They were headed for reception. Scholes didn’t see the visitor out, though, just pointed him in the right direction before turning to head back to his office. He saw Fox and slowed his pace, jutting his chin out.
‘I keep thinking you’re going to bring me bad luck,’ he said.
‘Maybe I am. We need you in the interview room.’
Scholes shook his head. ‘Not now. Might be a bit of movement on Alan Carter.’
‘What sort of movement?’ Fox couldn’t help asking.
‘Never you mind.’ Having said which, Scholes headed for the staircase. Fox watched him, then turned and made for reception. The visitor had yet to leave. He was talking with the desk sergeant. They were shaking hands. When he did push open the front door, Fox followed.
‘Where you going?’ the desk sergeant barked, but Fox ignored him. The elderly man was standing at the bottom of the steps, looking bewildered.
‘Needing a lift back to Kinghorn?’ Fox asked him. ‘I can do it, if you like.’
The man peered at him. Short-sighted, but lacking glasses. What hair he had left was jet black. Fox reckoned it was dyed. His eyes were small and deep-set, his mouth drawn in on itself, as though he’d forgotten to put his teeth in.
‘I’m fine walking,’ he said, having studied Fox. ‘Do I know you?’
‘My name’s Fox. Sorry, I don’t know yours.’
‘You’re the one who found Mr Carter?’
Fraser nodded solemnly. Fox noticed that he wore a thin black tie with his threadbare shirt. Mourning again. ‘A bad, bad thing,’ he muttered to himself.
‘You’ve just been seeing DI Scholes?’
‘I only met Mr Carter the one time, but I liked him.’
‘He was hard to dislike.’
‘Did you walk here this morning, Mr Fraser?’
‘I like walking. It’s not that far.’
‘Busy road, though.’
‘There are a few short cuts.’
‘Must have been a shock, finding Mr Carter…’
‘A shock?’ Fraser gave a short, cold laugh. ‘You might say that.’
‘What I mean is… I didn’t really know him, but he seemed fine in himself.’
Fraser nodded again. ‘There was nothing wrong with him. The DI’s saying they’re checking his health, in case the doctor had given him bad news. But he’d have told me, wouldn’t he? No secrets between us.’
‘You’d known one another a long time?’
‘We were at school together – two years between us, but we were in the team.’
Fox didn’t like to say that Fraser looked a lot older. If he were the elder by two years, then he’d be no more than sixty-four. ‘Football?’ he asked instead.
‘Fife champions two years in a row.’ Fraser sounded so proud, Fox wondered if anything since had given the man the same satisfaction.
‘Where did Mr Carter play?’
‘Right up front – a real poacher. Twenty-nine goals one season. That was a school record. If the minister doesn’t mention it at the funeral, I’ll be on my feet reminding everyone.’
Fox smiled at this. ‘What did DI Scholes want?’
‘Ach, he was just asking about the gun and stuff. How was Alan positioned when I found him? Had I moved anything?’
‘And had you?’
‘I picked up the phone and dialled 999.’
‘But Mr Carter wasn’t dead, was he?’
‘As good as.’
‘You tried rousing him?’
‘He was breathing. Not conscious, though. But a gun? Alan never owned a gun. And the door unlocked?’ He shook his head vigorously. ‘Kept it locked, even if he knew I was expected. If he heard me, he’d be at the door waiting, but otherwise I had to knock and Jimmy Nicholl would start barking.’
‘The door wasn’t locked?’
‘No barking when I knocked. Thought they must be out on a walk, even though the dog could only manage a few yards at a time without its back legs giving way. So I was expecting the door to be locked.’ He seemed to remember something. ‘In fact, it wasn’t even closed properly. That’s right… when I knocked, it opened a wee bit.’
‘I suppose,’ Fox said, playing devil’s advocate, ‘if he’d planned to do what he did, he might leave the door open so he could be found.’
Fraser considered this notion, but then dismissed it with a snort. ‘You know I’m looking after Jimmy Nicholl? It’s the least I could do. Alan doted on that hound – and you’re telling me he wouldn’t have taken Jimmy to a vet’s before doing away with himself?’ He screwed up his face.
‘Can I ask you something else, Mr Fraser?’
‘I’m Teddy, son. Everybody calls me Teddy.’
‘I was just wondering what he was working on – all those papers on his table.’
‘Nineteen eighty-five’s not that ancient.’
‘To some people it is. I’ll prove it to you right here.’ Fraser paused, readying himself to gauge Fox’s reaction. He clasped his hands together, then mentioned a name.
‘You’ve got me,’ Fox conceded after a moment. ‘Who’s Francis Vernal?’
‘You’d do better finding out for yourself.’
‘Why was Mr Carter so interested in him?’
‘I’m not sure he was – not at first.’
‘I don’t follow.’
‘Alan was a copper back then – that’s why he got the job.’
‘Someone was paying him to look back at 1985? Was this some case he’d worked on?’
Fraser dug a bony finger into Fox’s chest, stabbing out a beat to his next words. ‘Better – finding – out – for – yourself.’
Having said which, he gave a little bow, turned, and started walking away at a brisker pace than Fox had foreseen. It actually hurt where the little man had poked him. He rubbed the spot with the heel of his hand. Back inside, the desk sergeant was lying in wait.
‘Come here, you,’ he said from the other side of the desk. Fox walked up to him. ‘You’ve not been pestering Teddy, I hope?’
‘He gave as good as he got. I take it you know him?’
‘And you knew Alan Carter, too?’
‘Served with him.’ The desk sergeant puffed out his chest. ‘One of the old school…’
‘I got the same feeling, the one time we met. I’m sorry.’
The muscles in the sergeant’s face twitched.
‘I don’t even know your name,’ Fox apologised further.
‘Robinson. Alec Robinson.’
Fox held out his hand, and after the briefest of hesitations Robinson took it.
‘Pleased to meet you,’ Fox said, causing the man to smile.
‘Sorry if I seemed to give you such a hard time,’ the sergeant responded. ‘You know what it’s like…’
‘I’ve had worse, trust me.’ Fox paused. ‘But can I ask you this – did you see much of Alan Carter in his later years?’
‘Not really. Maybe at the football or a reunion…’
‘He liked to keep busy, though, eh?’
‘Built that company of his from scratch.’ Robinson sounded impressed, so Fox nodded his agreement.
‘The day I saw him, he was still busy,’ he informed the sergeant.
‘All that work he was doing on Francis Vernal.’
Robinson’s face stiffened.
‘Care to shed some light?’
‘I’m not the one to talk to,’ Robinson eventually confided.
‘Then who is?’
‘These days?’ Robinson pondered his answer. ‘Probably no one…’
Back in the interview room, Fox pointed at Joe Naysmith.
‘I need you to do something for me. Got a laptop with you?’
‘Well there must be a spare computer somewhere around here.’
‘What is it you need?’
‘An internet search.’
‘My phone can do that.’
‘Can it print, though?’ When Naysmith shook his head, Fox told him that only a computer would do.
‘What am I searching for?’
‘You mean the lawyer?’ Tony Kaye said. Fox turned towards him. ‘Died in a car smash back in the eighties.’
Kaye gave a shrug. ‘I was only a kid…’ He paused. ‘Come to think of it, didn’t he shoot himself?’
‘Before or after he crashed the car?’
Kaye shrugged again, and Fox turned his attention back to Naysmith, who took the hint and started to leave.
‘What’s this about?’ Kaye asked as the door closed behind Naysmith.
‘Something Alan Carter was working on.’
‘And what’s that got to do with us?’
‘Maybe nothing? I thought you were bringing us back Ray Scholes – Joe got the camera ready and everything.’
Fox noticed the tripod for the first time. The audio recorder was on the table, flanked by microphones.
‘He says he’s busy.’
‘Whoopee for him. Let’s all take a holiday until he deigns to grace us with his presence.’
‘The two women,’ Fox said. ‘Why don’t you go talk to them?’
‘You trying to get rid of me?’
‘I thought you were keen?’
‘I suppose it beats sitting here watching the cogs whir inside that head of yours.’
‘But first you need to tell me what’s going on.’
‘Nothing’s going on. A guy died, I liked him, his front room was like a shrine to someone called Francis Vernal.’
‘And you want to know why?’
‘And I want to know why.’ Fox paused, eyes boring into those of his colleague and friend. ‘Good enough for you?’
‘Anything for a quiet life.’ Kaye was rising from his chair, easing his arms back into the sleeves of his suit jacket. ‘Do I take Junior with me?’
‘If you need him.’
‘Isn’t he busy on a little job for you?’
‘It can wait.’
‘And while we’re out there on the mean streets, you’ll be doing what exactly?’
‘Checking on the surveillance… telling McEwan about the suicide… trying to pin Ray Scholes down – I won’t be slacking.’
‘Okay.’ Kaye nodded slowly. ‘But we’ll miss you, you know that. Hell, we might even send you a postcard.’
It wasn’t Fox’s fault that Evelyn Mills wasn’t answering her phone. The same was true of Bob McEwan – while Ray Scholes had gone AWOL. Fox found himself back in the police station’s reception area, staring at one of the notices on the wall. It was an advert for a local cab company. Five minutes later, he was in the passenger seat of a dented white Hyundai. The driver was keen to learn more about the suicide, but Fox offered him nothing. The cordon had been removed and there was no activity outside the cottage itself. The driver asked if he wanted him to wait.
The man turned off the engine. He looked to be readying to get out of the car, but Fox stopped him.
‘Nothing to see,’ he stated.
So the driver switched the radio on, modern dance music sound-tracking Fox as he made for the front door.
It was locked.
He made a circuit around the house, but there was no back door. He peered in through the living-room window. There were flecks of blood on the insides of a couple of the panes. Fox’s fingers brushed a small plant pot balanced on the outside ledge. He lifted it and saw a key lying there. Either a spare, or left by the police. He unlocked the door and went inside.
Jimmy Nicholl’s basket was no longer in the living room. Fox wondered if he should have asked Teddy Fraser how the dog was doing. Didn’t pets often pass away soon after their owners? The room smelled of woodsmoke. The remains of a charred log sat in the grate, a fine layer of ash coating the top of the mantelpiece. Fox started leafing through the paperwork on the table. Sure enough, the news clippings related to the life and death of Francis Vernal. One lengthy story was headlined ‘The Inner Turmoil of the Activist Patriot’. It looked to Fox as though the media at the time had soon switched their focus from eulogies to something meatier: the dead man’s private life. There was a blurry photo of his attractive wife, and mention of Vernal’s ‘heavy-drinking lifestyle and string of affairs’. The same photo of the lawyer had been picked up by several newspapers. He was addressing a Scottish National Party rally. It was outside a factory earmarked for closure. Vernal was in full flow, one hand bunched into a fist, mouth open wide, teeth bared. Fox glanced through the window to check that the cab-driver was still in his car. He was whistling and had opened a newspaper.
Francis Vernal had died on the evening of Sunday, 28 April 1985, the same day Dennis Taylor played Steve Davis in the World Snooker final. His car had been spotted by a van driver. It had left the road near Anstruther. A Volvo 244. Must have been travelling at speed. Vernal was in the driver’s seat, dead. His body was taken to the Victoria Hospital, at which time the bullet hole in the side of his head was identified as such. A heavy drinker and smoker, he had also been prone to bouts of depression. His beloved Nationalists seemed to have stalled in the polls, and Vernal’s dream of a Socialist Scots Republic looked destined to remain unrealised in his lifetime. Fox sifted through the newsprint. Some passages had been underlined. Alan Carter’s handwritten notes were almost indecipherable. There were screeds of them. No sign of a computer or laptop, meaning nothing had been typed. Fox was wondering who had given him the job, and why. Suddenly, a photo caught his eye. Another rally, but taken longer ago, Vernal in his early twenties by the look of it. A bit more hair on his head, and slimmer around the chest and stomach, but still with mouth wide open and fist clenched. There was another young man standing next to him, and Fox was stunned to find he recognised him. It was Chris – his father’s cousin Chris – looking just the same as in the photo where he was carrying Jude on his shoulders. Fox lifted this picture from the table and stared at it. It had been clipped from the Fife Free Press. There was no date, and only a few lines of explanation: an SNP picnic on the links at Burntisland; ‘the noted Edinburgh lawyer Francis Vernal gives the speech of the afternoon’. With Chris Fox standing at his side, laughing and leading the applause…
Fox paced the room a couple of times, the photo still in his hand. Then he folded it into his pocket, looking around him as if fearing someone might have noticed. There was a telephone on a chest of drawers behind the door, and he crossed over to it. An address book sat next to it. It was open and had been turned over. Fox lifted it and saw that it was open at the page for surnames beginning with C. Paul Carter’s name was there – home and mobile numbers listed. Fox flipped through the book, not sure what he thought he would find. A few business cards fell out and he stooped to pick them up. One was for an Indian restaurant, another for a garage. But the third belonged to a man called Charles Mangold. He was senior partner in a firm of solicitors called Mangold Bain, with an address in Edinburgh’s New Town. Fox jotted the details into his notebook, then tapped his pen against the telephone receiver, and stared at the ‘C’ page again. Three names there, one with a thick line through it, probably meaning the person was no longer part of Alan Carter’s life, or had passed away. Leaving two names.
One of them Paul Carter’s…
Fox lifted the receiver and dialled 1471. The computerised voice informed him that the last number to call the phone had been Paul Carter’s mobile. The call had taken place the previous evening, barely an hour before Alan Carter had been found. He put down the receiver and started opening the various drawers in the chest below it. Neat and tidy: Alan Carter had kept his bank statements and utility bills filed away. The phone bills were itemised. There was no sign that Alan had called his nephew at any point in the past six months. No, because they weren’t close – hadn’t Alan said as much himself? But Paul, soon after his release from custody, had felt the need to phone his uncle. Fox wondered why. He looked around the room again. Where had the mess come from? Had something made Alan Carter angry, so that he swept papers from the table on to the floor? Or had someone else done it?
Fox flinched at the sound of tapping on the window. It was the cab-driver. Fox gave him a nod to let him know he was just coming. The man lingered, taking in the scene. Fox replaced the address book, made sure he was leaving the room as he had found it – the one borrowed photograph aside – and went outside.
His driver was apologising. ‘No skin off my nose, but the meter’s up to thirty quid…’
‘It’s fine,’ Fox told him. He locked the front door of the cottage and slid the key under the flowerpot.
‘Back to where we started?’ the driver asked.
‘Back to where we started,’ Fox agreed, getting into the passenger seat.
Calls to and from Ray Scholes’s home phone were now being logged and recorded. The news came in a text message from Evelyn Mills. The network provider for his mobile phone had also been contacted, and they would soon have access to information about calls made and received – but no access to the actual calls themselves, not without taking their request further and throwing money and manpower at it.
Fox had managed a word with Bob McEwan, letting him know that Alan Carter was dead. McEwan had sounded distracted – he was between budget meetings – and had thanked Fox for his ‘input’, a word presumably picked up at the earlier meeting.
Fox had told Kaye he’d try to track down Ray Scholes, but he now had another destination, the office of Superintendent Isabel Pitkethly.
‘What is it now?’ she asked, removing her glasses and rubbing at her eyes.
‘It’s a bit awkward,’ Fox said. She was immediately interested, repositioning her glasses the better to study him. When she gestured for him to sit, he did as he was told, brushing his hands across the knees of his trousers.
‘Well?’ she prompted, elbows on the desk, palms pressed together.
‘Paul Carter’s uncle is supposed to have committed suicide.’
‘I’m aware of that.’
‘It happened soon after he got a call from his nephew…’
She considered this for a moment. ‘What of it?’
‘They weren’t the best of friends,’ Fox pressed on. ‘It’d be good to know why Paul made that call.’
She leaned back in her chair. ‘Why? What difference does it make?’
‘Maybe none,’ he conceded.
‘And how do you know about this call, anyway?’
‘I dialled 1471.’
‘From the deceased’s home? And what in hell took you there, Inspector?’
Fox didn’t really have an answer to that, so he stayed silent.
‘This is way past your remit,’ Pitkethly said quietly.
There was a rap on the door and DS Michaelson stuck his head into the room. He had his mouth open to say something, but stopped when he saw Pitkethly had company.
‘I’ll come back,’ he offered.
‘What is it, Gary?’
Michaelson seemed to be weighing up his options, but he was too excited not to spit it out.
‘The thing is, Alan Carter can’t be dead, ma’am.’
Pitkethly looked at him. ‘What?’
‘He can’t be dead.’
‘Why not?’ It was Fox rather than Pitkethly who asked the question.
‘Because the gun he used doesn’t exist. It hasn’t done for twenty-odd years.’
‘You’re not making any sense.’
Michaelson produced a sheet of paper. Fox couldn’t tell if it was a fax or the printout of an e-mail. The detective approached Pitkethly’s desk and handed it over. She took her time reading it through. Then she looked at Fox.
‘We’ll finish our little chat later.’ She was rising to her feet. Michaelson accompanied her out of the room, Fox following for the first few steps until she stopped him.
‘Not your remit,’ was all she said, before continuing in the direction of the CID suite. Michaelson looked over his shoulder, giving Fox a huge, cold smile of satisfaction.
Fox pursed his lips and watched them go. Then he had an idea.
It took Alec Robinson a while to answer the desk buzzer. Fox could guess why.
‘Have you heard?’ Robinson said.
‘Some of it,’ Fox hedged. ‘I’m surprised how quick it all happened.’
Robinson nodded his agreement. ‘Not that many guns in Fife,’ he explained. ‘The register was put on computer last year. Can’t think why they backdated it, but they did.’
Fox still wasn’t sure he understood. ‘Twenty-odd years…’ he prompted.
‘Like I say, we don’t take many firearms off the street.’
‘No, but when you do…’ Fox was still feeling his way.
‘Broken up and melted down – that used to be the way. Once or twice a year, when there were enough to make it worthwhile.’
It was Fox’s turn to nod. ‘And this gun’s on record as having been disposed of?’
Robinson stared at him. ‘I thought you knew.’
‘Only some of it.’ Fox folded his arms. ‘So how come it suddenly turns up in Alan Carter’s cottage? Could he have swiped it?’
Robinson shrugged. ‘Not sure he was ever on the detail. Guns weren’t kept here anyway – Glenrothes, I think.’
Fox exhaled noisily. ‘It’s a mystery,’ he said.
‘That’s what it is,’ Robinson agreed. Then, eyes on Fox: ‘Don’t tell me there’ll be another inquiry now. That’s all we bloody well need…’
‘Very nice girls,’ Tony Kaye said.
‘Very,’ Joe Naysmith agreed.
They were back in the interview room, the three of them seated around the table with beakers of tea.
‘Though Billie’s a senior stylist and Bekkah’s not quite got there yet.’
‘Lucky it was quiet in the salon. We were able to grab twenty minutes in the privacy of the tanning booth. Don’t worry, though – it wasn’t switched on.’
‘Bekkah looked like she’d spent some time in there,’ Naysmith added.
‘Good figure on her, too – if that’s not being sexist.’
Fox could see his two colleagues had enjoyed themselves.
‘She’d like to give modelling a try,’ Naysmith informed him.
‘Cut to the chase,’ Fox muttered.
‘Well…’ Naysmith began, but Kaye took over the story.
‘Night out. Started with the whole team from the salon. Few casualties along the way. Chinese meal, then pubs and a club. It’s past midnight and they reckon on walking home. Bekkah’s caught short and nips down a side street. Car pulls up. It’s Paul Carter. Identifies himself and says he’s taking them in. Public indecency or some such. Billie asks if he can’t just drop them home instead. He says maybe he can but it’d mean spending a bit of time on the car’s back seat. Makes a grab for her crotch. She pushes him away, so then he asks Bekkah if she wants to spend the night in the cells. Same bargain. They tell him where he can go and he heads back to his car and calls it in. Patrol car turns up and they’re put in a cell to sober up. Which is when Carter suddenly reappears and repeats the offer – any and all charges dropped if they’ll “scratch his back”. No dice.’
‘Billie told him her boyfriend was a bouncer,’ Naysmith got the chance to say.
‘As if that would cut any ice with Carter.’
Fox rubbed his chin. ‘Carter’s uncle ran a security company,’ he commented.
Fox shrugged. ‘Just wondering.’
‘We can always visit the girls again and ask.’ Kaye glanced at Naysmith, who didn’t look entirely opposed to the idea. ‘Anyway, that’s about it. In the morning they were released without charge – no sign of Carter.’
‘But they didn’t make a complaint?’
‘Not until they read about Teresa Collins.’ Kaye paused. ‘How is she, by the way? Any news?’
‘I’ve not checked. Been some developments here…’ He filled them in. Naysmith seemed the more interested of the two, asking questions and getting Fox to repeat bits, the better to understand them. Kaye looked glum throughout.
‘What?’ Fox eventually asked him.
‘I hate to side with Pitkethly, but she’s got a point – what has any of this to do with us?’
‘Paul Carter comes riding back into town and a day later his uncle has topped himself? You don’t think there’s anything to that?’
‘Whether there is or there isn’t, we’re here to investigate three officers, none of whom happens to be Paul Carter. We report our findings and then we get to go home.’
‘So the gun,’ Joe Naysmith was saying to himself, ‘was meant to be destroyed but obviously wasn’t. They must keep records of these things
Kaye stretched out his arms in mock-supplication. ‘This is not our case,’ he said, laying equal stress on each of the words. ‘It just isn’t.’
‘It might connect to our case,’ Fox told him. ‘Little bit of digging, you never know…’
‘Did Alan Carter work on the disposal team?’ Naysmith asked.
‘I’m sure CID are looking into that,’ Kaye said. ‘Because that’s the sort of thing CID do. We, on the other hand, are the Complaints.’
The door opened. Fox was about to remonstrate, but saw that it was Superintendent Pitkethly.
‘I need a word,’ she said, pointing in Fox’s direction. Then, to Kaye and Naysmith: ‘Either of you two see or speak to Alan Carter before he died?’
‘Nor after he died,’ Kaye said with a shake of his head. She gave him a hard look.
‘Then it’s just you,’ she told Fox. ‘My office… unless you’d rather do it here?’
Fox told her he preferred her office. She turned away, and he got up to follow.
She was already seated behind her desk when he arrived. She told him to close the door, and when he made to sit down, she ordered him to stay on his feet. She had a pen in her hand, which she studied as she spoke.
‘You may just have been the last person who saw Alan Carter alive, Inspector. That means CID would like to ask a few questions.’
‘Hardly feasible when I’m running an inquiry into three of them.’
‘Which is why I’m asking instead.’ She paused. ‘Always supposing you’ve given me a clean bill of health?’ He didn’t answer, causing her to look up at him. She narrowed her eyes and returned her attention to the pen.
‘Why did you visit him?’
‘He made the original complaint about Paul Carter.’
‘That hardly connects him to Scholes, Haldane and Michaelson. Oh, and by the way, Haldane’s feeling a lot worse since your little home visit, so thanks for that.’ Again, Fox chose not to comment. ‘So what did you talk about with Alan Carter? How did he seem?’
‘I liked him. He wasn’t evasive, was a welcoming host.’
‘Troubled in any way?’
‘I wouldn’t have said so.’ Fox paused. ‘There’s something else, isn’t there?’
‘Someone in Forensics seems to have been watching CSI. She was the one who traced the revolver…’
‘And she’s got a few concerns about the prints.’
‘The prints on the gun?’
‘Don’t get too excited – just a couple of anomalies.’
Fox thought back to the scene: Ray Scholes already there; stuff strewn on the floor; the revolver half-hidden below a magazine… He remembered Alan Carter moving around the room, making tea, handing him a mug…
‘Carter was right-handed,’ he stated.
‘Why was the gun lying to the left of him? His head was slumped against the table and the gun was to the left, not the right.’
She stared at him.
‘Not one of the anomalies?’ he guessed.
‘No,’ Pitkethly conceded, writing a note to herself.
‘Alan Carter’s prints are on the gun – no one else’s. There’s a good thumbprint slap-bang in the middle of the grip.’
Fox made show of holding a revolver. His thumb was high up on the grip. He tried bringing it lower down, but it felt awkward.
‘And a partial fingerprint halfway along the barrel,’ Pitkethly added, tossing the pen on to the desk and folding her arms.
‘No prints anywhere else?’
‘You’re sure he didn’t seem worried about anything?’
Fox shook his head. ‘But then he probably didn’t know at that point that his nephew had been released from custody.’
‘Let’s not get carried away, Malcolm.’ The use of his first name came as a jolt to him. She needed him. She needed him on her side.
‘You have to bring Paul Carter in,’ he said quietly.
‘I can’t do that.’
No, not to his own police station, not to be interviewed by his own friends.
‘I can ask the questions,’ Fox offered.
She shook her head. ‘You’re the Complaints. This is… this is something else.’ When he looked at her, she met his eyes. ‘There’s no proof Alan Carter didn’t pull the trigger,’ she said quietly.
‘But all the same…’
‘Anomalies,’ she repeated. ‘Carter ran a security company. He might have made enemies.’
‘On top of which, he was doing some research into an old case.’
‘He was surrounded by the paperwork when he died – didn’t Scholes tell you?’
‘He said the place was a bit of a tip…’
‘Tidy enough when I visited. But afterwards, looked like someone had been through it. Scholes and Michaelson were first on the scene. Michaelson gave Teddy Fraser a lift home, leaving Scholes alone in the cottage…’
Pitkethly closed her eyes, rubbing at her eyebrows with thumb and forefinger. Fox sat down across the desk from her.
‘Honeymoon’s over,’ he told her. ‘You’ve got some big decisions to make. First one should probably be to phone HQ. If you know anyone there, talk to them first.’
She nodded, opening her eyes again. Then she took a couple of deep breaths and picked up the receiver.
‘That’ll be all, Inspector,’ she said, her voice firm. But there was a momentary smile of thanks as he got up to leave.
In the car back to Edinburgh, Naysmith asked Fox if he still wanted information on Francis Vernal.
‘I can do it at home tonight,’ he offered.
‘Thanks,’ Fox replied.
‘And in case you were thinking that Kirkcaldy’s boring…’ He took a folded printout from his pocket and handed it over. ‘Here’s what I already discovered about the place.’
It was a newspaper report about a Yugoslav secret-service agent, sent to Kirkcaldy in 1988 to assassinate a Croatian dissident. The story was back in the news because the assassination had failed, the gunman had been jailed, and he now claimed he had information about the murder of Swedish prime minister Olaf Palme.
Fox read the piece aloud for Tony Kaye’s benefit. ‘Unbelievable,’ was Kaye’s only comment, before turning the hi-fi on.
‘Alex Harvey again,’ Naysmith complained.
‘The Sensational Alex Harvey,’ Kaye corrected him, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel. ‘Part and parcel of your musical education, young Joseph.’
‘Terrorists and bampots, eh?’ Naysmith offered, eyes fixed on Malcolm Fox. ‘We never seem to be rid of them.’
‘We never do,’ Fox agreed, reading the article a second time.
They decided to have one drink at Minter’s. It was mid-afternoon and the place was dead. Fox went outside and called the offices of Mangold Bain.
‘I’m afraid Mr Mangold’s appointments diary is full,’ he was told.
‘My name’s Fox. I’m an inspector with Lothian and Borders Police. If that doesn’t clear me some space today, tell him it concerns Alan Carter.’
He was asked to hold the line. The woman’s lilting voice was replaced for a full minute by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
‘Six o’clock?’ she offered. ‘Mr Mangold wonders if the New Club might be acceptable – he has another meeting there at six thirty.’
‘It’ll have to do, then, won’t it?’ Fox said, secretly pleased – the New Club was one of those Edinburgh institutions he’d heard about but never been able to visit. He knew it was somewhere on Princes Street and filled with lawyers and bankers escaping their womenfolk.
Back in the bar, Kaye and Naysmith were waiting to hear if they needed to go back to the office or could call it a day. Fox checked his watch – not quite four. He nodded, to let them know they were off the hook.
‘That calls for another drink,’ Kaye said, draining his glass. ‘And it’s your shout, Joseph.’
Naysmith rose from the table and asked Fox if he wanted another Big Tom. Fox shook his head.
‘Somewhere else to go,’ he said, glancing at the TV above the bar. The local newsreader was telling viewers that there was no further information on the explosion in the woods outside Lockerbie.
‘Some sick sod’s idea of a practical joke,’ Kaye muttered. ‘Unless you think the Yugoslavs are back, Joe…’
Half an hour later, Fox was at Lauder Lodge. When he opened the door to his father’s room, he saw that Mitch had a visitor. There was a half-bottle of Bell’s open on the mantelpiece.
‘Hiya, Dad,’ Fox said. His father looked sprightly. He was dressed and his eyes sparkled.
‘Malcolm,’ Mitch said, with a nod towards the visitor, ‘you remember Sandy?’
Malcolm shook Sandy Cameron’s hand. The three of them had attended Hearts games together when Malcolm had been a boy, his father always keen to remind him that Sandy had almost become a professional, back in the day. Years later, the two men had played indoor bowls for a team in the local league.
‘Decent measure,’ Fox noted, watching Cameron switch his tumbler to his left hand so he could shake with the right.
‘Whisky shandy,’ Cameron explained, angling his head towards a bottle of Barr’s lemonade on the floor next to the chair.
‘Don’t know how you can bear to dilute it,’ Mitch Fox said, draining his own glass.
‘Maybe you should learn, Dad,’ Malcolm chided him. He dragged another chair over and joined them. ‘How are you, Mr Cameron?’
‘Can’t complain, son.’
‘Sandy was just reminiscing about the ice rink,’ Mitch confided. Fox reckoned they’d be stories he had heard half a dozen times or more. ‘A hell of a skater you were, Sandy. Could have turned pro.’
‘I did love it.’ Cameron smiled to himself. ‘And the football…’
But Fox knew he had ended up a draughtsman. Married to Myra. Two kids. A contented life.
‘What brings you here?’ Mitch was asking his son. ‘Thought you were doing something in Fife?’
Fox dug in his pocket and produced the photograph. ‘Came across this,’ he said, handing it over. His father made show of focusing, holding the cutting as far from him as his arm would allow. Then he fished in his cardigan pocket for his reading glasses.
‘That’s Francis Vernal,’ he stated.
‘But who’s next to him?’
‘Is it Chris?’ His father’s voice rose a little in surprise. ‘It’s Chris, isn’t it?’
‘Looks like,’ Fox agreed.
Mitch had handed the photo across to his old friend.
‘Francis Vernal,’ Cameron confirmed. ‘And who did you say the other fellow was?’
‘Cousin of mine,’ Mitch explained. ‘Chris, his name was. Died young in a bike crash.’
‘How come he knew Vernal?’ Fox asked.
‘Chris was a shop steward at the dockyard.’
‘And an SNP man?’
‘I saw Vernal speak once,’ Cameron added. ‘At a miners’ institute somewhere – Lasswade, maybe. “Firebrand” is the word that springs to mind.’
‘I don’t really remember him,’ Fox admitted. ‘I was in my teens when he died.’
‘There were rumours at the time,’ Cameron went on. ‘His wife…’
‘Bloody tittle-tattle,’ Mitch said dismissively. ‘Selling papers is all it’s good for.’ He looked at his son. ‘Where did you find this?’
‘There’s an ex-cop in Fife, he was interested in Vernal.’
‘I’m not sure.’ Fox thought for a moment. ‘What year did Chris die?’
It was his father’s turn to think. ‘Seventy-five, seventy-six… Late on in seventy-five, I think. Crematorium in Kirkcaldy, then a meal at a hotel near the station.’ Mitch had retrieved the photo and was staring at it. ‘Smashing lad, our Chris.’
‘He never married?’
Fox’s father shook his head. ‘Always told me he liked life free and easy. That way he could just jump on his bike and go exploring.’
‘Whereabouts did the crash happen?’
‘Why are you so interested all of a sudden?’
Fox gave a shrug.
‘Is this you trying some real detective work for a change?’ Mitch turned towards Cameron. ‘Malcolm here’s only got another year or two till he’s back in CID.’
‘Oh aye? The Complaints isn’t for life, then?’
‘I think Malcolm would like it better if it was.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ Fox couldn’t keep the irritation out of his voice.
‘You were never happy there,’ his father told him.
‘You’ll be a bit rusty, then,’ Cameron chipped in, ‘when you have to go back to the detective work.’
‘What I do now is detective work.’
‘It’s not the same, though, is it?’ his father continued.
‘It’s exactly the same.’
His father just shook his head slowly. Silence descended on the room for a moment.
‘Firebrand,’ Cameron eventually repeated. He seemed to be thinking back to Francis Vernal’s speech. ‘The hairs went up on your arms. If he’d been asking you to advance on the enemy lines, you’d have done it, armed or not.’
‘I saw him on the James Connolly march one year,’ Mitch added. ‘Not something I usually paid attention to, but a pal wanted to go to the rally. Leith Links, I think it was. Francis Vernal got up to speak, and you’re right, Sandy – he had the gift. Not saying I agreed with him, but I listened.’
‘People used to compare him to Jimmy Reid,’ Cameron mused. ‘I thought he was better. There was none of the “comrades” stuff.’
‘It seemed a lost cause back then, though, didn’t it?’ Fox added, relieved that he was no longer the focus of attention. ‘Nationalism, I mean.’
‘They were strange times,’ Mitch said. ‘A lot of anger. Things getting blown up…’ He had poured himself another whisky, the bottle pretty well empty now. ‘I was always Labour, but I remember your mum getting on her high horse about the SNP. They used to recruit outside folk concerts.’
‘Same thing at the picture house when Braveheart was playing,’ Cameron added.
‘Malcolm was never political, though,’ Mitch Fox said. ‘Maybe worried about sticking his head above the parapet – or at least above his homework books…’
Fox was staring at his father’s whisky. ‘Dash of water with that?’ he asked.
‘Dash of water be damned.’
The New Club was hard to find. The edifice Fox had always assumed it to be turned out to belong to the Royal Overseas League instead. A woman in reception pointed him back along Princes Street. The evening was turning blustery. A set of tramlines had been laid, but there was now yet another delay as the contractors bickered with the council about payment. Workers were queuing at bus stops, keen to get home. It didn’t help Fox’s cause that few of the shops on Princes Street had numbers. It was 86 that he was after, but he missed it again and had to retrace his steps. Eventually, next to a cash machine, he saw an anonymous varnished wooden door. There was a small window above it, and he could just about make out the name etched there. He rang the bell and was eventually admitted.
He had been expecting small, stuffy Georgian-style rooms, but the interior was vast and modern. A uniformed porter told him he was expected and led him up a further flight of stairs. A few elderly gentlemen wandered around, or could be glimpsed poring over newspapers in armchairs. Fox had thought his destination would be some lounge or bar, but in fact it was a well-appointed meeting room. Charles Mangold was seated at a large circular table, a carafe of water in front of him.
‘Thank you, Eddie,’ he said to the porter, who bowed and left them to it. Mangold had risen and was shaking Fox’s hand.
‘Charles Mangold,’ he said, introducing himself. ‘Inspector Fox, is it?’
‘Mind if I see some proof?’
Fox pulled out his warrant card.
‘Can’t be too careful these days, I’m afraid.’ Mangold handed back the wallet and gestured for him to take a seat. ‘I forgot to ask Eddie to fetch us some drinks…’
‘Water’s fine, sir.’
Mangold poured them a glass apiece while Fox studied him. Portly, early sixties, bald and bespectacled. He wore a dark three-piece suit, pale-lemon shirt with gold cufflinks, and a tie of maroon and blue striped diagonals. His confident air was edging towards smugness. Or maybe ‘entitlement’ was the word.
‘Been here before?’ he asked.
‘Most other clubs have closed their doors, but somehow this place soldiers on.’ He took a sip of water. ‘I’m sorry I can’t offer you very much time, Inspector. As my secretary may have said…’
‘You have another meeting at half past.’
‘Yes,’ Mangold said, glancing at his watch.
‘Did you know Alan Carter was dead, Mr Mangold?’
The lawyer froze for a second. ‘Dead?’
‘Put a gun to his head yesterday evening.’
‘Good God.’ Mangold stared at one of the wood-panelled walls.
‘How did you know him?’
‘He was doing some work for me.’
‘On Francis Vernal?’
‘Had you known Mr Carter long?’
‘I barely knew him at all.’ Mangold seemed to be considering what to say next. Fox bided his time, sipping from the glass. ‘There was a profile of him in the Scotsman a while back – focusing on his various business interests. It mentioned that he was an ex-policeman and that he’d played a small role in the original investigation.’
‘The Francis Vernal investigation, you mean?’
Mangold nodded. ‘Not that there was much of one. Suicide was the story everyone stuck to. There wasn’t even an FAI.’
Meaning a Fatal Accident Inquiry. ‘Bit odd,’ Fox commented.
‘Yes,’ Mangold agreed.
‘You reckon there was a cover-up of some kind?’
‘The truth’s what I’ve been after, Inspector.’
‘Twenty-five years on? Why the wait?’
Mangold bowed his head a little, as if to acknowledge the acuity of the question. ‘Imogen isn’t well,’ he said.
‘Six months or a year from now, I doubt she’ll be with us – and I know the papers will dredge it up again.’
‘The stories that she drove him to it?’
‘You don’t think she did?’
‘Of course not.’
‘Did you work alongside Mr Vernal?’
‘For a long time.’
‘Friend of his, or friend of his wife?’
Mangold stared hard at Fox. ‘I’m not sure I can let that insinuation pass.’
‘Look, I’m sorry Alan Carter’s dead, but what precisely does it have to do with me?’
‘You’ll be wanting to take charge of all his research material. Might have to get used to a few blood spatters, mind…’ Fox looked to be readying himself to rise from his chair and leave.
‘Francis Vernal was murdered,’ Mangold blurted out. ‘And no one’s done anything about it. If I didn’t know better, I’d say officers at the time went beyond wilful negligence.’
‘Meaning they were involved. By the time they found out he’d been shot, his car had been removed from the scene, the scene itself trampled over, obliterating any evidence. Took them a full day to find the gun – did you know that? It was lying on the ground, twenty yards from where the car had stopped.’ Mangold was talking rapidly, as if needing to put the words out there. ‘Francis didn’t own a gun, by the way. Papers from his briefcase strewn around nearby. Car’s back window smashed, but not the windscreen. Things missing…’
‘Cigarettes, for one – he smoked forty a day. And a fifty-pound note he always carried – the fee from his first case.’ Mangold ran a hand across his head. Then he looked up at Fox. ‘You’re not what I expected… not at all.’
‘In what way?’
‘I thought I was going to be warned off. But you’re… too young to have been part of it. And your warrant card says Professional Standards. That means police corruption, yes?’
‘It means complaints against the force.’
Mangold nodded slowly. ‘Francis Vernal should be a story, Inspector. So many holes in the original investigation…’
‘Was Carter making any progress?’
‘A little.’ Mangold thought for a moment. ‘Not much,’ he conceded. ‘A lot of the players are no longer with us. I doubt he would have taken the job if Gavin Willis were still alive.’
‘Gavin Willis being…?’
‘Alan’s mentor. He was a DI at the time Francis died. And he led the inquiry. Only ten years or so older than Alan, but Alan definitely looked up to him.’ Mangold leaned forward a little, as if readying himself to share a confidence. ‘Did Alan tell you about the cottage?’
‘It belonged to Gavin Willis. When he died, Alan bought it – that’s how close the two men were.’
‘In which case,’ Fox said, ‘Carter was hardly going to blacken Willis’s name.’
‘I’m not so sure. People like to get to the bottom of things, Inspector, don’t you find?’
‘So what will you do, now that you’ve lost your researcher?’
‘Find another one,’ Mangold stated, staring intently at Fox. There was a tap on the door, and the porter, Eddie, announced that the first of Mangold’s guests had arrived downstairs. Mangold got to his feet and walked around the table, shaking Fox’s hand and thanking him for coming: ‘Just a pity the circumstances couldn’t have been different…’
Fox gave the slightest of nods and allowed Eddie to show him back down the staircase.
Just inside the front door, a new arrival was handing his overcoat to a porter while discussing the weather. He glanced towards Fox as if to check whether he warranted some greeting. In the end, the curtest of nods was all Fox got.
‘Will you be in your usual spot, Sheriff Cardonald?’ the porter was asking. ‘I’ll bring you your drink.’
‘Usual spot,’ Cardonald agreed.
Fox paused to watch him head for the stairs. Sheriff Colin Cardonald, the man whose decision had put Paul Carter back on the streets…
He hadn’t felt like another takeaway or microwave meal, so had treated himself to a restaurant in Morningside – an Italian place with plenty of fresh fish on the menu. The evening paper kept him occupied for about ten minutes, after which he tried not to look as if he was interested in the other diners. Really, he was thinking. Trying not to, but thinking all the same.
About Ray Scholes and Paul Carter.
About Paul Carter and his uncle.
About Alan Carter and Charles Mangold.
Charles Mangold and Francis Vernal.
Vernal and Chris Fox.
Chris and Mitch.
Mitch and Fox himself.
Bringing him right back to Scholes and Carter again. No wonder his head was spinning; there was a dance going on in there, an eightsome reel with too many couples and not enough floor space. When his waiter came over, looking concerned and asking if everything was okay, Fox realised he’d hardly touched his main course.
‘It’s fine,’ he said, scooping up another forkful of monkfish.
You were never happy there…
You’ll be a bit rusty then…
Should he have offered a stronger argument? Defended himself against the charge? Two old men with a couple of drinks under their belts – what was the point? He thought back to his time on the force prior to the Complaints. He had been diligent and scrupulous, never a shirker. He had put in the hours, been commended for his error-free paperwork and ability to lead a team: no egos and no heroes. He hadn’t been unhappy. He had learned much and kept out of trouble. If a problem arose, he either dealt with it or ensured it was moved elsewhere.
Ideally suited to Complaints and Conduct, his reviews eventually started concluding. But was that altogether a good thing, or was it CID’s way of telling him he didn’t fit in there?
Too willing to sidestep problems.
When he caught his waiter’s eye, he told him he was finished.
‘Not as hungry as I thought,’ he offered by way of apology.
Back at the house, he switched on the TV and found multiple channels of dross. The news was focusing on a royal engagement and not much else. Fox lasted ten minutes, then went in search of his computer. He knew he could wait until morning: Joe Naysmith would stick to his word. But all the same, he typed Francis Vernal’s name into the search engine and clicked on the first of 17,250 links.
Half an hour later, a text came in from Tony Kaye.
Copycat blast – Peebles this time. Bloody kids!
Fox couldn’t think how to reply, so turned his attention back to the computer screen instead.
Copycat… Bloody kids…
As usual, Tony Kaye was seeing what he wanted to see. Fox wasn’t so sure.
There was a lay-by near the spot where Francis Vernal’s car had left the road. A small cairn had been erected, with a plaque on it commemorating ‘A Patriot’. Someone had even left a bouquet of flowers. The flowers were shrivelled – could be they dated back to the anniversary of the crash. Mangold’s work maybe, on behalf of himself and Vernal’s widow.
Fox had brought his own car over to Fife this morning, leaving the M90 and skirting Glenrothes, heading for what was known as the ‘East Neuk’: little fishing villages popular with landscape painters and caravanners. Lundin Links and Elie, St Monans and Pittenweem, then Anstruther – pronounced ‘Ainster’ by locals. Francis Vernal had died on a stretch of the B9131, north of Anstruther. He didn’t play golf, but had a weekend place on the outskirts of St Andrews. Nobody was sure why he hadn’t stuck to the A915 – a quicker route. The only theory was a picturesque detour. Once you headed away from the coast, it was all farmland and forestry. No way to tell which particular tree his car had collided with. Another theory: mud left on the roadway by tractors had caused the car to skid. Fine, Fox could accept that. But something had happened afterwards. Not everyone who smashed their car then felt compelled to reach for a handgun. Had Vernal’s lifestyle caught up with him? Stress, a rocky marriage, too much drink. The drink makes him swerve off the road – maybe he wants to end it all. But he’s still alive afterwards, so he reaches into the glove box for the revolver.
A revolver: same sort of gun used by Alan Carter.
By him – or on him.
Fox ran his fingers over the memorial. Kids down the years had scratched their names into it. A couple of souped-up cars had flown past him a few miles back, stereos blaring, maybe driven by ‘Cambo’ or ‘Ali’, ‘Desi’ or ‘Pug’. Straightening up, he breathed deeply. Not a bad spot: peaceful. The drone of distant farm machinery, the half-hearted cawing of a few crows. He could smell freshly turned earth. A trudge around the vicinity provided no further clues. No one had left a bouquet resting against any of the trees. None of the news reports had been able to provide a photo of the car in situ, and even the few monochrome pictures of the site were speculative, apparently. Mangold was right: the Volvo had been removed and taken to a local junkyard before any forensics could be done. The early newspaper reports didn’t even mention suicide. It was a ‘tragic accident’, robbing the country of ‘a bright political talent’. The obituaries had been plentiful, but sticking to the same anodyne script. A book had been published a few years later, and half a chapter had been dedicated to the ‘mystery death’ of ‘political activist Francis Vernal’. The book had been a short compendium of unsolved Scottish crimes, but it produced no new evidence. Instead, its author had posed questions, the same questions Fox had been asking himself throughout his online reading of the previous evening. He’d printed out quite a lot of it, finishing one ink cartridge and replacing it with a spare. Back at his car, he lifted the heavy folder from the passenger seat and considered opening it. But then his phone buzzed, meaning he had a text message. It was from Tony Kaye.
Fox called Kaye’s number but he wasn’t answering. He turned the ignition key, did a three-point turn, and headed back towards Kirkcaldy.
The cop-shop car park was full, so he parked on the street outside. Single yellow line, so he had to hope he wouldn’t get a ticket. The sign next to the front desk stated that the Alert Status had been raised from MODERATE to SUBSTANTIAL. The storeroom was unlocked and empty, so he made for the interview room. Opening the door, he saw Paul Carter slumped in a chair. On the other side of the table sat Isabel Pitkethly.
‘Out,’ Pitkethly ordered.
Fox muttered an apology and closed the door again. Kaye and Naysmith were coming along the corridor towards him.
‘Might have warned me,’ Fox growled.
‘I just did,’ Kaye responded. Sure enough, Fox had another text message.
IR a no-no!
‘Thanks,’ Fox said, stuffing the phone back into his pocket. ‘So what’s going on?’
‘You should see CID,’ Naysmith interrupted. ‘They’re going mental.’
‘It would be nice if someone told me why.’
‘Some spotty little reporter,’ Tony Kaye obliged. ‘There’s a petrol station on Kinghorn Road and he went there to fill up his putt-putt-’
‘And,’ Naysmith butted in again, ‘he asks the attendant if he saw anything the night Alan Carter died. Turns out the guy did.’
‘Paul Carter,’ Kaye added. ‘He saw Paul Carter.’
‘Stopped his car at the pumps, got out but didn’t do anything about filling it.’
‘Pacing up and down.’
‘Looking at his phone.’
‘Punching the buttons but not seeming to get an answer…’
‘We already know Paul Carter phoned his uncle,’ Fox felt it necessary to state.
‘But he was heading for the cottage,’ Naysmith stressed.
‘So half an hour ago it was a clear case of suicide, and now the nephew’s a murder suspect?’ Fox’s stare moved from Kaye to Naysmith and back again.
‘He’s going to go to jail,’ Kaye argued, ‘in no small part because of his uncle…’
‘If nothing else,’ Naysmith added, ‘it probably means he went to the cottage. Whatever they talked about, it ended with a gunshot and a corpse.’
They heard footsteps. Two men and a woman had come through the swing doors, led by Sergeant Alec Robinson. Robinson was stony-faced. The new arrivals took the measure of Fox, Kaye and Naysmith, then knocked on the interview-room door and went in. Robinson avoided eye contact with Fox as he headed back to his desk.
‘Glenrothes?’ Kaye speculated.
‘Aye,’ Fox said.
A minute later, the same three officers were leading Paul Carter out. He saw Fox and his colleagues and came to a stop.
‘I’m being stitched up here,’ he snarled. ‘I never did nothing!’
The two male officers gripped him by either forearm and led him away.
‘Hands off me!’
The woman offered a glance back in Fox’s direction as she followed them.
‘Know her?’ Kaye asked, his mouth close to Fox’s left ear.
‘Name’s Evelyn Mills,’ Fox admitted. ‘She’s Complaints, same as us.’
‘And she wears Chanel.’
Pitkethly was standing in the doorway of the interview room. The look she gave Fox told him it had been her decision to bring Glenrothes in. He nodded to let her know he’d have done the same.
‘What does he say?’ he asked.
‘Got a call from his uncle’s number. Caller hung up. Another call, same thing happened.’ She folded her arms. ‘Wondered what was going on, decided to go ask him in person, but got halfway and changed his mind.’
‘Maybe that’s what happened, then.’
‘You don’t sound convinced.’
She glowered at him and decided against answering. Fox, Kaye and Naysmith watched her stride down the corridor away from them.
‘Home sweet home,’ Kaye said, making to enter the interview room. Fox saw that Naysmith was lifting a heavy-looking shoulder bag from the floor at his feet.
‘That stuff you wanted,’ the young man explained. ‘Took me half the night, a ream of paper and a change of printer cartridges.’ He made to hand the contents of the bag to Fox. ‘You’ll never guess how many hits there were on Francis Vernal’s name.’
He looked stunned when Fox got it exactly right.
It was over an hour before Mills had the chance to call Fox. He hesitated a moment before answering.
‘Your girlfriend?’ Kaye guessed.
‘Yes, Inspector Mills?’ Fox said into the phone, letting her know he had company.
‘I’m not sure what this means for the surveillance,’ she told him.
‘If we catch Carter talking to Scholes and owning up to something …’
‘Might be inadmissible,’ Fox concurred.
‘I’ve got the Procurator Fiscal’s office working on the pros and cons, but knowing them, it’ll take a while.’ She paused. ‘Might be safer just to pull the plug.’
‘On the other hand,’ Fox reasoned, ‘the tap is on Scholes’s phone, not Carter’s. And Scholes isn’t the one CID have in their sights.’ It was Fox’s turn to pause. ‘How’s it looking for Carter?’
‘His superintendent tells us you were the one who came up with the left-hand/right-hand thing on the revolver.’
‘It’s all circumstantial, of course…’
‘Of course,’ he agreed.
‘But it might add up to something.’
‘A murder inquiry?’
‘Based here?’ Fox looked around the small room.
‘It’s the nearest station. We’d have to send in our own team, naturally.’
‘Naturally. CID and the Complaints working together?’
‘If that’s what the bosses decree.’
‘Scholes, Michaelson, Haldane…?’
‘Sounds as if it’s going to be pretty hectic around here.’
‘You plan to stay put?’
‘Until told otherwise.’
‘Malcolm… you realise you’re a witness? We’ll need to ask you about Alan Carter.’
‘Scholes is already stirring things.’
‘Says you were on the scene pretty fast.’
‘Not half as fast as him and Michaelson.’
‘Difference is, they’d been called to the cottage.’
‘I’m happy to answer any questions, Inspector Mills.’
‘See you soon, then,’ she said, ending the call.
Fox relayed everything to Kaye and Naysmith, then told them he was stepping outside for a breath of air. Across the other side of the car park, Brian Jamieson was standing next to his scooter. There was a woman alongside him with some sort of recorder slung over one shoulder and headphones clamped to her ears. She was holding a microphone in front of Jamieson.
Local radio was interviewing local stringer.
Fox walked over. Jamieson had already spotted him and was telling the woman who he was. The microphone swung towards him.
‘I need a word,’ Fox told Jamieson.
‘Inspector,’ the young woman said, ‘can I just ask you for a comment on the arrest of Paul Carter?’
Fox shook his head and then angled it into the car park, knowing Jamieson would follow. That way, he would look important, and Fox got the feeling he’d want to look important in front of his colleague-cum-competitor.
‘We saw him being lifted,’ Jamieson was saying as he caught up with Fox. ‘Is that him off to Glenrothes?’
‘What made you go into the petrol station?’
‘Pit stop. After you left the scene, I was there the best part of two hours. Needed a caffeine hit.’
‘The attendant knew Paul Carter?’
Jamieson shook his head. ‘It was the car he described, rather than the man.’
‘So you can’t be sure it actually was Carter?’
Jamieson stared at him. ‘The forecourt’s covered by CCTV. I had to wait for the garage owner to okay me seeing the playback. That’s why I didn’t come forward sooner. No doubt about it, Inspector – it’s Paul Carter caught on camera.’
‘And he drives off afterwards?’
‘Still heading towards the cottage?’
‘Is he saying it’s coincidence?’
‘He’s saying he did a U-turn.’
Jamieson was thoughtful. ‘Camera only covers the pumps.’ He had moved ahead of Fox so he was facing him. ‘Funny, isn’t it?’
‘Paul Carter… so close by his uncle’s place the night the uncle decides to do away with himself. And who are the first two officers on the scene? Paul Carter’s best buddies.’
Fox kept his face a blank. ‘What made you think to ask the attendant if he’d seen anything suspicious?’
Jamieson gave a twitch of the mouth. ‘Maybe a hunch. Hunches have got me where I am today.’
‘You’re a regular Quasimodo,’ Fox agreed, heading for the police station’s back door. Waiting for him on the other side stood Ray Scholes, hands in pockets, feet apart.
‘You know who he is?’ Scholes cautioned.
Fox agreed that he did.
‘Are you giving him anything?’
‘Best keep it like that.’
Fox made to move past, but found his way blocked.
‘I need to show you something,’ Scholes said. It was the screen of his phone. Fox took it from his hand and peered at the message. It was from Paul Carter.
Get Fox for me. Five minutes.
The phone started vibrating. Fox looked at Scholes.
‘That’ll be for you,’ Scholes told him.
‘I don’t want it.’ Scholes said nothing, and wouldn’t take the phone back when Fox offered it to him. The call ended, the two men staring at one another. It rang again immediately.
‘Point made,’ Scholes said. ‘You can answer it now.’
‘Hello?’ said Fox.
‘Listen, I’ve pulled a few stunts in my time – I admit that. But not this. Never this.’
‘What do you want me to do about it?’
‘Fuck’s sake, Fox. I’m a cop, aren’t I?’
‘And someone’s trying to frame me.’
‘So somebody’s got to be on my side!’ There was anger in the voice, but fear too.
‘Tell that to Teresa Collins.’ Fox’s eyes were boring into Scholes’s.
‘You want me to own up?’ Paul Carter was saying. ‘Every time I crossed the line or even thought about it?’
‘Why did Alan Carter die?’
‘How should I know?’
‘You didn’t go to see him?’ Fox’s voice hardened. ‘If you try lying to me, I can’t help you.’
‘I swear I didn’t.’
‘Did you send anyone else?’ He was still looking at Scholes, who stiffened and bunched his fists.
‘Any idea why he phoned you?’
‘I’m telling you, I don’t know anything!’
‘So what am I supposed to do?’
‘Ray can’t exactly go snooping, can he?’
‘Wouldn’t look good,’ Fox conceded.
‘But he tells me you talked to my uncle…’ The sound that came from Carter’s throat was somewhere between a sigh and a wail. ‘Maybe you can do something… anything.’
‘Why should I?’
‘I don’t know,’ Carter admitted. ‘I really don’t know…’
Wherever Carter was, Fox could hear new noises, muffled voices. He was no longer free to talk. The phone went dead and Fox checked the screen before handing it back to Scholes.
‘Well?’ Scholes asked.
Fox seemed to be weighing up his options. Then he shook his head, squeezed past Scholes, and headed for the interview room. But Scholes wasn’t giving up.
‘Alan Carter had enemies,’ he said. ‘Some he made on the force, others afterwards. The Shafiqs – they own a string of shops and businesses. Had a run-in with some of Carter’s boys. Bad blood there.’
Fox stopped and held up a hand. ‘You can’t just go throwing names around.’
‘Bombs going off in Lockerbie and Peebles – we could play the anti-terrorism card, keep them in custody till they talk.’ Scholes saw the look on Fox’s face. ‘Oh aye,’ he said with a sneer. ‘I forgot – it’s racist to lock up anyone with a funny name.’
Fox shook his head and moved off again. This time, Scholes didn’t bother following. He called after him instead.
‘When he texted me wanting to speak to you, I sent a message straight back, told him he was wasting his time. A real cop’s what he needs, and that’s not you, Fox. That’s nothing like you.’ His voice dropped just a fraction. ‘A real cop’s what he needs,’ he repeated, as Fox shoved open the swing doors.
‘Anyone else we should be talking to?’ Tony Kaye asked.
The three of them were perched on the sea wall, eating fish and chips from the wrappings. Across the water, a ray of sun picked out Berwick Law. Far to the right, they could make out Arthur’s Seat and the Edinburgh skyline. Tankers and cargo vessels sat at rest in the estuary. It was lunchtime, and the gulls were flapping around, looking interested.
‘Haldane might be worth another shot,’ Fox suggested.
‘Really?’ Kaye asked.
‘What do you think?’
‘I think a murder inquiry might be about to happen, and we’d be better off elsewhere. Last thing Fife Constabulary is going to need is us running around, trying not to barge into their murder team.’
‘True,’ Fox admitted.
‘Yet I can’t help noticing we’re still here.’ Kaye tossed a morsel of batter into the air, watching a gull swoop and snatch it, its friends readying to gang up against it. ‘So tell me what else we could add to the sum of our knowledge.’
‘There’s the surveillance,’ Fox offered.
‘But that’s not our operation.’
‘Scholes, Haldane and Michaelson – we’ve hardly scratched the surface with them…’
‘You’re clutching at straws, Malcolm.’ This time a salted chip spun into the sky, dropping to the ground and being pounced on by four of the gulls.
‘All right, I give in.’ Fox turned towards Naysmith. ‘Joe, tell the man why we can’t go home just yet.’
‘Francis Vernal,’ Naysmith said, on cue. It had been evident to Fox from first thing: Naysmith had been reading the same online articles, rumours and suppositions as Fox – and he was hooked. ‘Taken for granted at the time that it was suicide. Media hardly touched it – no rolling news or internet back then. But Vernal had told friends he thought he was being watched, that his office and house had been broken into – nothing taken, just stuff put back in the wrong place.’
‘So who was watching him?’ Kaye asked.
‘Spooks, I suppose.’
‘And why would they be interested in him?’
‘I hadn’t realised how wild things were in the mid-eighties,’ Naysmith said, licking vinegar from his fingers. ‘You had CND demos, Star Wars summits-’
‘Not the film – it was a missile defence thing; Reagan and Gorbachev. Cruise missiles were on their way to Britain. The Clyde was being picketed because of Polaris. Friends of the Earth were protesting about acid rain. Animal rights… Hilda Murrell…’ Naysmith paused. ‘You remember her, right?’
‘Let’s pretend I don’t,’ Kaye said.
‘Pensioner, but also an activist. Tam Dalyell…’ Naysmith broke off.
‘The MP,’ Kaye stated. ‘I’m not completely glaikit.’
‘Well, he had a theory she’d been killed by MI5. They’d been paying a private eye to keep tabs on her…’
‘I’m not hearing anything about Francis Vernal.’ Kaye was scrunching the greasy wrappings into a ball.
‘Early eighties was also a hotbed of nationalism,’ Fox informed him. ‘Isn’t that right, Joe?’
Naysmith nodded. ‘SNP weren’t doing well in the polls, and that led some nationalists to look towards Ireland for inspiration. They reckoned a few explosions might focus London’s attention.’
‘Letter bombs were sent to Mrs Thatcher and the Queen. Plus Woolwich Arsenal, the Ministry of Defence and Glasgow City Chambers – that last one on a day Princess Di was visiting. All these splinter groups: Seed of the Gael, SNLA…’
‘Scottish National Liberation Army,’ Fox explained for Kaye’s benefit.
‘Scottish Citizen Army… Dark Harvest Commando. That last one, they took a wee trip to Gruinard.’ Naysmith paused again.
‘Enlighten me,’ Kaye muttered.
‘It’s an island off the west coast. Infected with anthrax in World War Two.’
‘Germans?’ Kaye speculated.
Naysmith shook his head. ‘We did it ourselves. Planned to drop anthrax over Germany but wanted to test it first.’
‘After which Gruinard was uninhabitable,’ Fox added. ‘They took it off the maps to stop people finding it.’
‘But the Dark Harvest Commando went there and lifted some of the soil, then started sending it to various government agencies.’
‘Francis Vernal was involved?’ Kaye speculated.
‘Few years after he died, one reporter filed a piece. He said Vernal had been paymaster for the Dark Harvest Commando.’
‘Did he have proof?’
‘Information was harder to come by back then. Remember that book Spycatcher? These days it would be on the net, no way a government could stop people reading it.’
Naysmith looked up at Fox, and Fox nodded to let him know he’d done well. Naysmith smiled and pushed a hand through his hair.
‘I really got into it,’ he said, sounding almost embarrassed at his own enthusiasm. ‘Even found some clips of a TV show – Edge of Darkness.’
‘I remember that,’ Kaye broke in. ‘Big American CIA guy with a golf bag full of guns…’
‘It was about the nuclear industry,’ Naysmith elucidated. ‘Catches the paranoia of the time.’ He shrugged. ‘Seems to me, anyway.’
‘How much did you find about Dark Harvest Commando?’ Fox asked him.
‘For one thing, almost nobody ended up in court. For another, it just seemed to fade away.’
Fox nodded slowly.
‘Polaris and acid rain,’ Kaye mused. ‘Seems like ancient history.’ He slid from the sea wall and held the ball of rubbish above a bin. ‘See what I’m doing here?’ He tossed it in. ‘That’s what we should be doing with all of this.’ He brushed his hands together.
‘You really think so?’ Fox asked.
‘I know so. We’re not CID, Malcolm. None of this adds up to anything we should be part of.’
‘I’m not so sure.’
Kaye rolled his eyes.
‘Did Alan Carter kill himself?’ Fox asked quietly.
‘Maybe,’ Kaye stated after a moment.
‘If he was murdered…’
‘His nephew’s looking good for it.’
‘Paul’s adamant it wasn’t him.’
‘And nor is he a sleazebag who tries coercing women into giving him blow jobs.’
‘Oh, he’s a sleazebag all right. Doesn’t mean we should let them hang him out to dry.’
‘Let who hang him out to dry?’
‘That’s what I want us to find out.’
Kaye had moved towards Fox until their faces were a couple of inches apart. ‘We’re the Complaints, Malcolm. We’re not Mission: Impossible.’
‘I know that.’
‘Loved that show when I was a kid,’ Naysmith commented. Both men turned to look at him, then Kaye smiled a wan smile and shook his head.
‘All right then,’ he said, knowing he was beaten. ‘What do we do?’
‘You keep the investigation going – second interviews with the main players. That gives us our reason for being here.’
‘While you go snooping?’
‘Just for a day or two.’
‘A day or two?’
‘Scout’s honour,’ Fox said, pressing two fingers together and holding them up.
The cordon had been moved further up the track. It comprised the usual length of crime-scene ribbon guarded by a bored-looking uniform. Fox and Naysmith showed their ID.
‘CID must have arrived,’ Fox explained to Naysmith as the uniform lifted the tape so their car could pass under it.
The gate to the field was open, the field itself emptied of livestock and now useful as a temporary car park. Two unmarked cars, one patrol car, and two white vans.
A suited, shaven-headed veteran was talking into his phone beside one of the unmarked cars. His eyes were on the new arrivals as they parked and got out. Fox offered him a nod and started walking towards the cottage. He could see figures moving around inside. At least two of them were Scene of Crime – dressed in regulation hooded white overalls, hands and feet covered so they wouldn’t contaminate the locus.
‘Bit late for that,’ Fox muttered, thinking of the number of people who had traipsed in and out since the body had been found.
The man with the phone was approaching from the field. He had a loping gait, which caused him to slip on some mud and nearly lose his footing. From the look on his face, Fox surmised this wasn’t the first time it had happened.
‘It’s treacherous,’ Fox commented.
The man ignored him, using his phone as a pointer. ‘Who are you?’
‘My name’s Fox.’ Fox reached for his warrant card again. ‘Inspector, Lothian and Borders.’
‘So what brings you here?’
‘How about some ID first? Can’t be too careful.’
The man gave him a hard stare, but eventually relented. His name was Brendan Young. He was a detective sergeant.
‘Glenrothes?’ Fox guessed.
‘You in charge?’
‘Not now, he isn’t.’ The man who stepped from the cottage was six foot three and as broad as a rugby player. Jet-black hair combed straight forward, and small, piercing eyes.
‘I’m DI Cash.’
‘They’re Lothian and Borders,’ Young informed him.
‘Bit lost, gentlemen?’ Cash asked.
‘I was out here a few days ago,’ Fox began to explain, ‘interviewing Alan Carter about his nephew.’
‘You’re the Complaints?’
Fox sensed a hardening of tone. Doubtless Young’s face was hardening too. Normal enough reactions.
‘We are,’ he concurred.
‘Then I was right first time – you are a bit fucking lost.’ Cash smiled at Young, and Young smiled back. ‘This is a suspicious death-’
‘Not murder yet, then?’ Fox interrupted. But Cash wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of an answer.
‘Why don’t you just go back to strip-searching your own kind to see if they’ve pocketed any paper clips from the stationery cupboard?’
Fox managed a twitch of the mouth. ‘Thanks for the advice, but I’m here for fingerprints.’
Cash stared at him. ‘Fingerprints?’
‘Mine,’ Fox explained. Then, patiently, as if to a child: ‘I was in the living room and hallway. Might have left prints. If I give them to Scene of Crime, they can be verified and eliminated.’
‘Up to us to decide that,’ Cash stated.
‘Of course,’ Fox accepted. Cash’s eyes stayed on him for a moment, then moved to Young.
‘Go fetch someone.’
Young headed into the house. Fox saw that the door jamb was splintered. A crowbar had been used to open it. He walked over to the window ledge, lifted the flowerpot, and showed Cash the key.
‘Kirkcaldy CID didn’t tell you?’ he guessed.
‘Well, you know what it’s like: this is their patch. Don’t expect any favours.’
‘I might say the same thing.’
Fox gave another twitch of the mouth, nearing a smile this time.
‘You’ll give us a statement about the deceased?’ Cash asked.
‘Whenever you’re ready for it.’
‘How often did you meet him?’
‘Just the once.’
‘What did you think? Good guy?’
Fox nodded. ‘Wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him, though.’
‘Seems to me he didn’t suffer fools – or family – gladly. Plus he ran a security firm.’ Fox slipped his hands into his pockets. ‘I was here again afterwards,’ he went on. ‘Not long after the body was discovered. The papers on the table had been disturbed; strewn about the place.’
‘Couldn’t say.’ He paused. ‘You know what Carter was working on?’
‘I get the feeling you’re about to tell me.’
‘Lawyer called Francis Vernal. Died in suspicious circumstances. Gunshot. Reckoned suicide at the time. About thirty miles from here…’
‘Francis Vernal? That was back in the eighties.’
Fox shrugged. One of the overalled figures was emerging from the cottage. She removed her hood and overshoes.
‘Which one of you?’ she asked.
‘Me,’ Malcolm Fox replied.
He followed her to one of the vans. She climbed into the back and found everything she needed. The portable scanner, however, refused to work.
‘Flat battery?’ Fox guessed.
She had to resort to the back-up of ink and paper. The result was signed by both of them, after which she handed Fox a wet-wipe for his fingers. This was followed by a DNA swab of the inside of his cheek, and the plucking of a couple of hairs from his head.
‘I can’t afford many,’ Fox complained.
‘Need to get the root,’ she explained. After everything was sealed into pouches, she locked the van.
‘Sorry about that,’ she said, heading back to the cottage.
‘When was the last time you had your prints taken?’ Naysmith asked.
‘Been a while.’ Fox saw Cash watching them from the living room. The DI gave a little wave, as if granting them permission to leave. Naysmith, however, had started walking in the direction of the Land Rover.
‘Bit of quality,’ he said, peering in through the driver’s-side window.
‘Mind you don’t leave any prints,’ Fox warned him.
Naysmith took a step back and looked around. ‘Question for you,’ he said. ‘Why leave your car out here when you’ve got a garage?’
Fox looked in the direction he was pointing. A track led up the slope behind the cottage, ending at a ramshackle building.
‘Afraid it might collapse?’ Fox guessed. But all the same, he started trudging uphill, Naysmith a couple of steps behind him.
The garage was padlocked. The lock looked old. The doors comprised vertical slats of wood, weathered and warped by the elements.
‘There’s a window here,’ Naysmith said. By the time Fox reached him, he had wiped at it with a handkerchief, without helping them gain much impression of what was inside.
‘Tarpaulin, I think…’
They walked around the garage, even gave it a kick in a couple of spots, but there was no easy way in.
‘Give me a sec,’ Fox said, walking back down the slope again. There was no one in the hallway of the cottage, so he moved briskly past the living-room door and found the small kitchen. Keys hung from a row of hooks to the left of the sink. He ran an eye along them and chose the likeliest candidates. As he was turning to leave, he saw Cash emerge from the living room.
‘What are you doing there?’
‘Looking for you.’ Fox slipped the keys into the inside pocket of his jacket, removing a business card at the same time.
‘So you can reach me to arrange that interview,’ he explained, handing it to Cash. Cash looked at it, then back at Fox.
‘I know you’re all excited,’ he said in an undertone, ‘not normally getting to play with the big boys and all that, but I need you to bugger off now.’
‘Understood,’ Fox said, managing his best to look and sound humbled in the presence of a Murder Squad detective. Cash escorted him to the front door and looked to left and right.
‘Where’s that work-experience kid of yours?’
‘Call of nature,’ Fox explained, nodding in the direction of the trees. He walked towards his car, opened it and got in. Cash was at the window again, watching. But after a couple of moments he turned away, and Fox got out of the car, heading back to the garage.
The second key unlocked the padlock, and they were in. Naysmith had been right. A tarpaulin was draped over what looked like another vehicle. There was dust everywhere. A workbench boasted rusty tools. Home-made shelves had buckled under the weight of old paint cans. There was an electric lawnmower for the patches of grass to the front and rear of the cottage. Along with the rolled-up extension cable, it was the newest thing visible.
Naysmith had lifted a corner of the tarp. ‘Not exactly roadworthy,’ he commented. ‘More what you’d call a write-off.’
Fox went to the other end of the vehicle and lifted another corner. The car was a maroon Volvo 244. It seemed fine until he lifted the cover further. There was no glass in the rear window.
‘Give me a hand,’ he said. Together they pulled back the tarpaulin. The front of the car was wrecked, its engine exposed, grille and bonnet missing.
‘Tell me it isn’t,’ Naysmith said in a voice just above a whisper.
But Fox was in no doubt at all. Vernal’s car, the one that had been taken to the scrapyard. Fox tried the passenger-side door, but it was jammed shut from the force of impact. The car’s interior didn’t look as though it had been touched in quarter of a century. There were bits of broken glass on the back seat, but not much else. Naysmith couldn’t get the driver’s door to open either.
‘How come it’s here?’ he asked quietly.
‘No idea,’ Fox said. But then he remembered. ‘Cottage used to be owned by a cop called Gavin Willis. He ran the original inquiry.’
‘So he could have kept the car for himself? Still doesn’t explain why.’
‘No, it doesn’t.’ Fox paused. ‘Reckon you can get in through that window?’
He meant the gaping rear windscreen. Naysmith removed his expensive jacket, handed it to Fox for safe-keeping, then hauled himself up, squeezing through the gap.
‘What now?’ he asked from the back seat.
‘Is there anything that might interest us?’
Naysmith felt beneath the front seats, then stretched between them and opened the glove box. He found the paperwork for the car and handed it to Fox, who stuffed it into his pocket.
‘Half a set of spare bulbs and a few sweet-wrappers,’ Naysmith reported. ‘But that’s about it.’
Fox could hear voices down at the cottage. They’d be wondering why his car was still there while he wasn’t. ‘Out you come, then,’ he said.
He helped pull Naysmith through the opening. They were standing side by side, Naysmith slipping his jacket back on, when the garage door shuddered open. Cash and Young were standing there.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’
‘Francis Vernal’s car,’ Fox stated.
Cash stared at the Volvo, then at Fox again. ‘How do you know?’
‘Make, model, colour,’ Fox explained.
‘And damage,’ Naysmith added, pointing to the engine casing.
‘I want the pair of you out of here,’ Cash growled, pointing a finger of his own.
‘Just leaving,’ Fox told him.
Cash and Young stayed with them until they’d reached their own car, then watched as they did a three-point turn and drove slowly back down the hill, Cash following on foot, just so he could be sure. They paused while the cordon was lifted, and waved to the uniform as they trundled towards the main road.
‘What now?’ Joe Naysmith asked.
‘This is where you get to show off your detective skills, Joe,’ Fox told him. ‘Kirkcaldy Library – find a phone book for 1985 and make a note of every scrapyard in the area. If we track down where the car went, we’ve half a chance of finding out why it left there again.’
Naysmith nodded. ‘Might not mean anything, of course.’
‘Every chance,’ Fox agreed. ‘But at least we’ll give it a shot, eh?
Having dropped Naysmith outside the library, Fox headed for the police station. Rain had started gusting against the windscreen. He turned on the wipers. The drops were huge, sounding like sparks from a fire. He thought back to that day in Alan Carter’s cottage, the two of them seated either side of the fireplace, mugs of tea and an old dog for company. What could have been cosier or more domestic? Yet Carter was a man who had built up a security company from nothing: that spoke to Fox of an inner toughness, maybe even ruthlessness. Then there was the evidence of his old friend Teddy Fraser: the cottage door kept locked at all times – why? What had the jovial old chap to fear? Maybe nothing. Maybe it was the sharp businessman who had to keep his wits about him – to the extent of having a gun nearby…
If the gun was his to begin with; Teddy Fraser thought otherwise.
There was no sign of Jamieson or the woman reporter outside the car park. Fox spotted Tony Kaye’s Mondeo. Pitkethly’s space was free again, but she had warned him against taking it. Looked like the Volvo was going to have to sit on the street again and risk a ticket. Francis Vernal, too, had driven a Volvo. A safe, steady choice, so the adverts would have you believe – Kaye had teased Fox often enough about that. The roadway either side of the crash site boasted a few curves and bends, but nothing serious. Fox thought of the speeding cars that had passed him near the memorial. Were there petrolheads back then? Nothing else for the local youths to do of a rural evening? Could someone have driven Vernal off the road?
Having parked, and looked around for traffic wardens in the vicinity, Fox got out and locked the car. He felt something in the pocket of his coat: the logbook from Vernal’s Volvo. Its edges were brown with age, warped by damp. Some of the pages were stuck together. At the back were sections to be filled out after each regular service. The lawyer had owned the car from new, by the look of things. Three years he’d been driving it, prior to the crash. Eight and a half thousand miles on the clock at the time of its last trip to the garage. The service centre’s stamp was from a dealership on Seafield Road in Edinburgh, long since relocated. There were some loose folded sheets in a clear plastic pocket attached to the inside back cover of the book, dealing with work done to the car and parts replaced. Fox unlocked the driver’s-side door, tossed the logbook on to the passenger seat, and headed towards the station. He was halfway across the car park when his phone rang. It was Bob McEwan.
‘Sir,’ Fox said by way of introduction.
‘Malcolm…’ McEwan’s tone caused Fox to slow his pace.
‘What have I done this time?’
‘I’ve had Fife on the phone – the Deputy Chief.’
‘He wants to pull us out?’
‘He wants to pull you out.’ Fox stopped walking. ‘Kaye and Naysmith can keep doing their interviews and prepare their report.’
‘CID called his office, apparently furious with you.’
‘Because I told them their job?’
‘Because you went barging into a potential crime scene. Because instead of leaving when told, you found somewhere else to stick your nose in…’
‘I went there to assist.’
McEwan was silent for a moment. ‘Would you swear to that in court, Malcolm?’ Fox didn’t answer. ‘And would you have Joe Naysmith back you up?’
‘All right,’ Fox relented. ‘It’s a fair point.’
‘You know better than anyone – we have to stick to the rules.’
‘And that’s why you’re coming home.’
‘Is that an order or a request, Bob?’
‘It’s an order.’
‘Do I get to kiss the children goodbye first?’
‘They’re not children, Malcolm. They’ll do fine without you.’
Fox was staring at the station’s back door.
‘I’ll let them know what’s happened,’ McEwan was saying. ‘You’ll be back here in an hour, yes?’
Fox switched his gaze to the sky above. The shower had passed, but another was on its way.
‘Yes,’ he told Bob McEwan. ‘I will, yes.’
When Fox walked into the Complaints office, there was a note waiting for him from Bob McEwan.
Another bloody meeting. Keep your nose clean…
Fox noticed a couple of supermarket carrier bags sitting on the floor next to his desk. They were heavy. He lifted a box file from one and opened it. A photograph of Francis Vernal in full oratorical flow stared up at him. Below it lay a sequence of stapled sheets, some half-covered in scribbled Post-it notes. The second box file seemed to comprise more of the same. There was no covering letter. Fox phoned down to reception and quizzed the officer there.
‘Gentleman dropped them in,’ he was told.
‘Give me a description.’
There was a thoughtful pause. ‘Just a gentleman.’
‘And he gave my name?’
‘He gave your name.’
Fox ended the call and made another – to Mangold Bain. The secretary put him through to Charles Mangold.
‘I’m just heading out,’ Mangold warned him.
‘I got your little present.’
‘Good. It’s everything Alan Carter passed on to me before his death.’
‘I’m not sure what you think I can do with it…’
‘Take a look at it, maybe? Then give me your reaction. That’s as much as I can hope for. Now I really need to be on my way.’
Fox ended the call and stared at the two large boxes. Not here: Bob McEwan would have too many questions. He crossed to his boss’s desk and left a note of his own.
Knocked off early. At home if you need me. Phone the house if you’re sceptical.
Then he drove to Oxgangs, and placed the two boxes on the table in his living room. As he came back through from the kitchen with a glass of Appletiser, he realised how similar the two scenes might eventually be – Alan Carter’s table, piled high with paperwork, and now his.
With a tightening of the mouth, he got down to business.
Alan Carter had, on the face of it, done a lot of work. He had sourced copies of the Scotsman for the whole of April and May 1985, really to prove only that almost no attention had been paid to the lawyer’s death. Fox found himself lost in these newspapers. There was an advert for a computer shop he remembered visiting. The advert was for an ICL personal computer with a price tag of almost four thousand pounds, this at a time when a brand-new Renault 5 – with radio/cassette thrown in – could be had for six. In the Situations Vacant column, one company was seeking security guards at seventy-five quid a week. A flat in Viewforth was on sale at offers over?35,000.
News stories flew at him: bombs in Northern Ireland; a CND demo at Loch Long; ‘Soviet Missiles Freeze Snubbed by Washington’… There were protesters at a proposed cruise missile base in Cambridgeshire. Companies were being advised to protect ‘sensitive electronic information’ from the effects of a nuclear detonation. The Princess of Wales, on a visit to Scotland Yard, was shown the oven and bath used by serial killer Dennis Nilsen…
Alex Ferguson was the boss of Aberdeen FC, and they topped the league throughout April. Petrol was going up five pence to just over two pounds a gallon, and Princess Michael of Kent professed herself ‘shocked’ to find out that her father had been in the SS. Fox found himself reaching for his mug of tea without remembering getting up to make it. Animal-rights protests and acid-rain protests and teachers warned by their employers against wearing CND badges in the classroom. Neil Kinnock was leader of the Labour Party, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was on a Middle East tour. A poll showed support for the SNP stubbornly fixed at fifteen per cent of the Scottish population. A flooded colliery was to be closed, and there were fears the Trustee Savings Bank might move its HQ south of the border.
Joe Naysmith had mentioned Hilda Murrell, and though she had died the previous year, she made it into the newspaper too. The MP Tam Dalyell was insisting she had been killed by British Intelligence, and Home Secretary Leon Brittan was to be quizzed on the matter.
Fox was surprised by how little of this he remembered. He would have been in his Highers year at Boroughmuir, confident that a university or college place awaited him. Jude had been more interested in politics than him – she’d gone out canvassing for the Labour Party one time. Fox, meanwhile, had turned his bedroom into a sanctum where he could concentrate on his Sinclair Spectrum computer, losing patience as yet another game failed to load because he couldn’t find the sweet spot on his cassette-player’s volume knob. Hearts games with his dad on a Saturday, but only if he could prove all his homework was done. He was fine with schoolwork, but never watched the news or read a paper – just 2000 AD and the sports pages.
Francis Vernal had died on the evening of Sunday, 28 April. That night, a large chunk of the population – Fox included – had been glued to their TV sets as Dennis Taylor faced Steve Davis in the final of the World Snooker Championship. Taylor, eight frames down at one stage, had staged the fightback of his career. When he potted the final black of the final frame, to take the match 18-17, it was the first time he’d been ahead in the entire contest. For the few days afterwards, his face was all over the papers. Vernal’s death rated not a mention, until his obituary appeared, including, on one line, a misprint of his name as Vernel.
‘Couldn’t happen today,’ Fox mused out loud. No internet back then, as Naysmith had said. Rumours could be contained. Even news could be contained. Few enough Woodwards and Bernsteins in the Scottish media at the best of times. Fox could imagine a newspaper editor baulking at reporting details of a suicide: there was the family to consider, and maybe you’d liked the guy, respected him. What good did it do tarnishing his name by letting strangers know how he’d died?
Opening the second box, Fox felt his eyebrows raise a little. Photocopies of the original police notes on the case, along with autopsy details and pictures. Someone had been into the vaults to retrieve this lot, which Alan Carter had then copied and sent to his employer. Had money changed hands, or did Carter still have friends on the force? Where did Fife Constabulary store its old case-work? In Edinburgh, they used a warehouse on an industrial estate. He checked his watch. It would take him a few hours to go through everything. He knew he should take a break. The sound of a message arriving on his phone was timely. Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith were having a drink at Minter’s.
POETS Day, remember!
Fox smiled to himself: Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday.
It was all the invitation he needed.
‘I have to tell you,’ Kaye said as Fox approached the table, ‘you’re in danger of becoming a local hero in Kirkcaldy.’
‘How’s that?’ Fox asked, settling into his seat.
‘They don’t like the Murder Squad muscling in, and so far you’re the only one who’s managed to put those particular noses out of joint.’
‘Is it a murder yet?’
Kaye shook his head as he took a sip of beer. ‘Suspicious death,’ he confirmed. Joe Naysmith returned from the bar with Fox’s spiced tomato juice.
‘Thanks, Joe,’ Fox said. ‘How did you get on at the library?’
‘Eight scrapyards in Fife, six of them still going.’
‘Did you manage to call all six?’
‘Not exactly. One guy I spoke with reckons the job would’ve gone to Barron’s Wrecking.’
‘Can I assume that’s one of the two firms no longer in business?’
Naysmith nodded. ‘The scrapyard’s now a housing estate.’
‘And Mr Barron?’
‘That’s the good news – when he sold up, he got one of the new-builds as part of the deal.’
‘He lives on the estate?’
‘It’s not really an estate – six “executive homes”.’
‘He’s still there?’
‘I’ve not managed to speak to him yet, but I will.’
‘Good lad.’ Fox realised Kaye was giving him a look not too far removed from pity.
‘Wild goose chase,’ Kaye duly commented.
‘How about you, Tony – anything to report?’
Kaye considered his response while he swilled another mouthful of beer. Then he smacked his lips and said: ‘Not much.’ Fox waited for more, and Kaye obliged. ‘Incident room’s been set up in the main CID office, meaning Scholes and Michaelson have been shunted out.’
‘Haldane’s still off sick?’
Kaye nodded. ‘DCI Laird has decided that CID should take up residence in the interview room, leaving Joe and me homeless.’
‘Have you talked to Pitkethly about it?’
‘She wasn’t exactly sympathetic.’ Kaye paused. ‘There is one thing …’
‘What?’ Fox asked.
‘The surveillance,’ Kaye replied. ‘With you kicked into touch, shouldn’t you hook me up with Coco Chanel? Joe and me need to know what she’s hearing from those phone taps.’
‘I’ll check with her,’ Fox said.
Kaye nodded slowly. ‘And what about you, Foxy? Got enough to keep you busy?’
‘I don’t doubt it.’ Kaye had finished his drink and was rising to fetch another. Fox shook his head, and Naysmith said he’d just have a half to top up his own pint. Once Kaye had gone to the bar, Naysmith leaned over towards Fox.
‘Do you need me for anything?’
‘Just keep doing what you’re doing.’
Naysmith nodded. ‘I was thinking about the gun,’ he added.
‘The one used to kill Francis Vernal.’
‘What about it?’
‘Where did it come from?’
‘I’ve been wondering that myself.’
‘How outrageous would it be if…?’
Fox finished the sentence for Naysmith: ‘It turned out to be the same gun?’ Fox considered this. ‘Pretty outrageous,’ he decided.
‘Any way to find out?’
‘Want me to…?’
Fox shook his head. ‘You’re doing fine as it is.’
‘The car’s the other thing.’ The words were tumbling from Joe Naysmith; Fox had seldom known him so excited. Maybe the youngster was more suited to CID than Complaints. ‘I mean, it was never given a forensic check, was it? And the technology these days is way ahead of what they had back then. If we got it to a lab, who knows what they could find…’
‘Up to and including your prints on the interior,’ Fox reminded him. ‘Which would give you a few awkward questions to answer.’
This reminded Naysmith of something. ‘The stuff I got from the glove box…?’
Fox shrugged. ‘Service history.’
Naysmith looked disappointed, then perked up. ‘Am I right though – about forensics?’
Fox nodded slowly. ‘Let’s see if there’s a case first, though, eh?’
‘The internet has his widow as a prime candidate. Nice-looking woman. Bit younger than him. Came from a rich family.’ Naysmith paused. ‘Still alive?’
‘Worth talking to?’
‘Maybe.’ Fox wasn’t sure Charles Mangold would like that, but all the same… Kaye was returning with the drinks. Naysmith moved back to his original position.
‘Look at the pair of you,’ Kaye chided them. ‘Like kids plotting something and not wanting the grown-ups to know.’ He placed the fresh glasses on the table. ‘What do you reckon – should we make a night of it, it being Friday?’
‘I’m heading back,’ Fox demurred.
‘Me too,’ Naysmith added.
Kaye sighed, shook his head more in sorrow than in anger, and lifted the pint to his mouth. ‘Pair of sodding kids,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Off you go, then, and remember to do your homework.’
‘We will,’ Naysmith said with a smile.
‘One last thing, though,’ Kaye added with a wag of his finger. ‘Don’t bother to wait up for Daddy.’
Once home, Fox sent a text to Evelyn Mills and sat down at the table again. There was some unopened mail on the windowsill. He hadn’t opened it because it comprised a bank statement and a credit-card bill, and neither would be good news. Fees at the care home had risen twice in the past year. Fox didn’t begrudge them… Well, maybe just a bit. More than once he’d considered asking Jude if she couldn’t look after their dad. It wasn’t as if she had a job. He could pay her, make it worth her while, and he’d still be better off. He wasn’t sure why he kept chickening out. Plenty of hints for her to take… or she could always make the offer herself. Instead, she just nagged at him and said she’d be happy to pay her share if she ever had the money.
You could always take him in…
‘So could you, Malcolm,’ he said to himself. Pay a home help to do a lunchtime meal and a bit of cleaning. It would be manageable. Just about manageable. Not really, though. No, Fox couldn’t imagine it. He was too set in his ways, liked things just so. It wouldn’t work…
It was almost a relief when his phone rang. He answered: it was Mills.
‘Why a text rather than calling me yourself?’ she immediately asked. ‘Are you cheap or what?’
‘I just thought…’ He paused for a second. ‘Doesn’t it look suspicious, me phoning you of an evening?’
She snorted. ‘I get calls all the time – Freddie’s used to it.’ Freddie: her husband, presumably. ‘A mysterious text, on the other hand…’
‘I should have thought of that.’
‘Anyway, I’m here now, so what can I do for you?’
‘Wondered how the surveillance is going.’
‘Nothing to report.’ She paused. ‘Who do I report to anyway?’
‘You’ve heard, then?’
‘DI Cash can be like that.’
‘You know him?’
‘Tell me he’s on your radar.’
She gave a little laugh. ‘He’s never crossed the line, Malcolm – not yet, at any rate.’
‘Pity.’ Fox rubbed a hand across his forehead. ‘To answer your question, I suppose Tony Kaye is your contact now. Let me give you his number.’ He did so, then asked if it was okay to give Kaye her name and number.
‘Sure,’ she said.
‘How’s the Alan Carter inquiry shaping up?’
‘Slow going. Kirkcaldy hasn’t exactly thrown a welcome party.’
‘Evelyn… I need to ask you another favour.’
‘You want me to put in a word? See if they’ll let you back?’
‘Not that, no. But I’m interested in the gun.’
‘So I’m wondering if I can talk to someone about it.’
‘And you want me to arrange it? You don’t ask much, do you, Malcolm?’
‘I’m sorry. A name and maybe a contact number – that’s all.’
‘And what do I get in return?’ She sounded almost coquettish. Fox stared at the paperwork in front of him.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Just my little joke.’ She laughed again. ‘You needn’t sound so scared.’
‘It’s not that, Evelyn.’
‘Did you really have that bad a time at Tulliallan?’
‘I had a great time at Tulliallan.’
‘Mmm, I wish I could remember more of it.’ She paused, as if waiting for him to say something. When he didn’t, she said she would text him if she got anywhere with the gun.
‘Can you tell me why you’re so interested in it, though?’
‘Not really, no.’ He paused. ‘It might be nothing.’
‘Need to let that brain of yours ease off. I can hear it working from here. Take the weekend off, Inspector. Let your hair down.’
‘You’re probably right.’ He managed a smile. ‘Good night, Evelyn.’
‘Sweet dreams, Malcolm. Do you still snore…?’
His mouth was hanging open, wondering how to answer, but she had already ended the call.
‘It’s not the same gun, I promise you that.’
Her name was Fiona McFadzean and she was, as Mills’s text had put it, ‘Fife’s ballistics person’. She was based at the Constabulary HQ in Glenrothes. It had taken Fox a while to find the place: too many roundabouts and a shortage of signposts. McFadzean didn’t work in the main building. Fox had been directed to a squat brick structure behind the petrol pumps. A uniformed officer was filling the tank of his squad car.
‘Aye, that’s Fiona’s lair,’ he assured Fox.
McFadzean had to come and unlock the door for him. She wasn’t wearing a white coat and seemed quite happy in her windowless space. Against one wall stood an array of building materials, from brick to wood, pockmarked with bullet holes. A glass-fronted cubicle contained a white-painted wall, speckled pink. McFadzean had explained to Fox that they used it to confirm blood spray from a gunshot.
‘And what exactly is it that you shoot?’ Fox asked.
‘Anything from watermelons to pigs’ heads. My uncle’s a butcher, which is handy.’
She was a young, vibrant woman, and she took him on a quick tour of her domain. An assistant sat at a computer. She introduced him as Paul, and he waved a greeting without looking up from the screen.
‘Much gun crime in Fife?’ Fox asked.
‘Not really. We were set up as a kind of experiment. Carpet’s always about to be pulled from under us – budgets getting squeezed, et cetera.’
McFadzean had no desk as such. She seemed content to perch on a stool at a narrow counter which ran the length of one wall. There was a coffee pot, and she poured for both of them, while Fox tried to make himself comfortable on the spare stool, before deciding to stand instead.
‘Thanks again for seeing me,’ he said.
She nodded her head once and lifted the mug to her lips, cupping it in both hands.
‘How can you be so sure about the guns?’ Fox then asked. The coffee was too bitter, but he took another sip anyway, so as not to give offence.
‘Serial numbers for a start,’ she said. ‘Paul had some free time last year, so he computerised all the old records.’ She showed Fox the printout. ‘This is the gun Francis Vernal used. Four-inch barrel rather than six-inch. Same-calibre bullet, but six chambers rather than five.’ A second printed sheet was passed to Fox. ‘The revolver used to kill Mr Carter…’
Fox studied the details. ‘Different gun,’ he agreed. ‘It says here the gun from the Vernal shooting was destroyed.’
She nodded. ‘Happens to all the weapons we confiscate.’ She handed him a third sheet. It was a detailed list of weapons from Fife and Tayside Constabularies sent to be melted down. There weren’t many. The revolver found on Alan Carter’s table should have been destroyed in October 1984. The one found near Vernal’s car had suffered the same fate a year later.
‘Have you got a history for both guns?’ Fox asked.
‘We can do only so much,’ McFadzean apologised, blowing across the surface of her coffee.
‘Be in a file somewhere,’ Paul called out. ‘Probably at the National Ballistics Lab in Glasgow. Buried deep in the archives.’
‘So you don’t know where they came from in the first place?’
McFadzean shook her head.
‘The revolver found in Alan Carter’s cottage… how do you think it got there?’
‘Somewhere between the lock-up and the furnace, it took a walk.’
Fox nodded his agreement. ‘Has that happened before?’
‘Guidelines are pretty strict – lots of checks and balances.’
‘Not a regular occurrence, then?’ Fox studied the sheets again. ‘Someone pocketed it,’ he guessed.
‘Seems likely. I mean, it could have been dropped or mislaid…’ She saw the look on his face. ‘Okay, that’s not so likely,’ she admitted.
‘Do we know who was on the detail? Whose job it was to dispose of the weapons?’
‘Over the page,’ she said, motioning for him to flip to the final sheet.
‘Ah,’ he said, because there was a name there he recognised.
Detective Inspector Gavin Willis.
‘Yes?’ McFadzean prompted.
Fox tapped a finger against the paper. ‘DI Willis,’ he explained. ‘Alan Carter worked under him. Bought his house when Willis died.’
‘Might explain it,’ Paul said, swivelling round in his chair to face them. ‘Gun was in the house. Carter found it and kept it…’
‘Making it more likely that he took his own life,’ McFadzean added.
‘Or at least that the revolver was lying around for someone else to use,’ Fox argued. ‘Wasn’t it you who noticed the fingerprints weren’t right?’
She nodded. ‘First thing we do,’ she explained, ‘is check any firearm for trace evidence. After that we match the gun to the bullet, just to be sure. And then we search for provenance.’
‘It hadn’t been fired in a while,’ Paul continued. ‘Hadn’t been looked after.’
‘Rust,’ McFadzean explained. ‘And a lack of oil.’
‘Unused bullets in the other chambers,’ Paul added. ‘They had to be a couple of decades old.’
‘From the fibres we found, it had probably been stored in a piece of cloth, just plain white cotton.’
‘So they should be searching the cottage for that cloth,’ Fox said.
‘They have done – at our request.’
‘Nothing so far,’ Paul interrupted.
‘Nothing so far,’ McFadzean confirmed.
Fox blew air from his cheeks. ‘What do you make of it?’
‘I’m not really sure,’ she confided. ‘Paul’s theory is that the gun had been taken to the cottage, used to kill the victim and then his prints pressed to it in a half-baked attempt to make it look like suicide.’ She paused.
‘But?’ Fox prompted.
‘But… you’ve just given us reason to believe the gun may have been in the cottage all along.’
‘Alan Carter might have had cause to be fearful,’ Fox stated. ‘Maybe he kept the revolver close by.’
‘That doesn’t work,’ Paul said, rising from his chair and pouring himself more coffee. ‘Victim was seated at the table. From the spray pattern, we know that’s where he was when he was shot. If someone’s taken your gun from you and is pointing it at you…’
‘You’re not likely to stay seated with your back to them,’ Fox agreed. He thought for a moment. ‘What if someone has the gun pointed at you and tells you to sit down? They want something from you, something that’s already on the table?’
Paul considered this and nodded slowly. ‘You find it for them, and they then shoot you?’
‘Or you refuse, and they shoot you anyway,’ McFadzean added. The room was silent for a moment.
‘So,’ Fox asked, ‘was the revolver there all along, or did someone bring it with them?’
‘I know CID are looking at the victim’s nephew,’ McFadzean commented. ‘He would have known the cottage, and might have known where the revolver was kept.’
‘The two men weren’t exactly close,’ Fox argued. ‘If there was a gun on the premises, Carter kept it secret even from his oldest and closest friend. And what about the missing cloth?’
‘Killer took it with him,’ Paul suggested.
‘If there was a killer,’ McFadzean cautioned.
‘If there was a killer,’ her assistant agreed. Then he turned towards Fox. ‘One other thing… Fiona’s quite right when she says not many guns go astray – these days, I’d say none at all.’
‘But back then?’ Fox prompted.
‘A few of the guns that turned up in police custody began life with the army. Back in the seventies, a lot of stuff – explosives included – went AWOL from barracks up and down the land, most of it destined for the Troubles.’
‘The paramilitaries needed weapons. They were being stolen to order.’
‘What’s your point?’
Paul shrugged. ‘That revolver could have been destined for Belfast.’
‘Ulster wasn’t the only place with terrorists,’ Fox informed him. ‘We had our fair share on the mainland, too.’ He was thinking of the Scottish National Liberation Army and letter bombs in Downing Street, the Dark Harvest Commando with their anthrax spores…
And their possible paymaster, Francis Vernal.
‘You’ve got a point,’ Paul said. He went to a filing cabinet, pulled open a drawer and started searching. McFadzean gave Fox an indulgent smile. He nodded his agreement: Paul was good at his job. A minute later, he’d found the relevant file and was handing a photograph to Fox. It showed a desk in a police station. Laid out for the media’s attention was an array of firearms. The dozen or so rifles were tagged; the pistols, revolvers and ammunition were in sealed evidence bags. Fox read the label on the back – ‘1980, Scottish Republican Socialist League trial’. He nodded at Paul.
‘Another splinter group to add to the list,’ he commented. ‘Some of these would have come from the army?’
‘From “break-ins” at barracks.’
Fox looked at him. ‘Inside jobs?’
‘All it takes is a few sympathisers, a blind eye turned, a key handed over…’
‘I’m seeing shotgun cartridges but no shotguns,’ Fox said, handing the photograph to McFadzean.
‘Par for the course,’ she explained. ‘No one’s saying these groups had high IQs.’
‘Not even the leadership?’
‘We caught them, didn’t we?’ She brandished the photo as proof.
While Paul placed the photograph back in its file, Fox rubbed at his jaw with the palm of his hand.
‘Can I ask you something else?’
‘Fire away, if you’ll pardon the expression.’
He gave her a smile. ‘Do you have a theory about these explosions?’
McFadzean gestured towards Paul’s computer. ‘Paul’s been doing a bit of work on that. Plastic containers filled with bits of metal – screws, washers, stuff you can find in any DIY store. Detonation sent the whole lot flying a distance of thirty metres.’
‘Probably not kids, then?’
‘Not unless they’ve been reading The Anarchist Cookbook,’ Paul said.
‘They’ve not perfected it yet, though,’ McFadzean added, folding her arms.
‘But they’re getting better,’ her colleague cautioned.
McFadzean nodded her agreement, looking pensive.
‘They’re getting better,’ she said.
‘And once they’re satisfied?’ Fox asked.
‘Then it won’t be trees they’ll be targeting,’ McFadzean said.
Fox thought long and hard about a detour to Kirkcaldy, maybe a snack at the Pancake Place with Kaye and Naysmith, but weighed up the risks and decided against it. Instead he drove back to Edinburgh, stopping for petrol and a burger. He had called ahead, but Charles Mangold was busy until two. At half past one, Fox was parked outside the New Town headquarters of Mangold Bain. The offices were on the ground floor of a steep-sloping Georgian terrace, looking directly on to Queen Street Gardens. The receptionist smiled and asked him to take a seat. There was a copy of the Financial Times on the coffee table, along with the latest property guides and a golfing magazine.
When a taxi drew up outside, Fox got to his feet and watched Mangold get out. His face was reddened by alcohol. As he came inside, he spotted Fox immediately and offered his hand.
‘Good weekend, Inspector?’
‘I did a lot of reading.’
‘Actually, a bit of a page-turner.’
Mangold seemed satisfied by this answer. ‘Coffee, please, Marianne – good and strong,’ he barked to the receptionist. Fox shook his head to let her know he wouldn’t be needing any. Mangold was already leading the way through the door to the right of reception. They entered what would have been the hallway of a private house at one time. There was an unused fireplace, and a grand staircase leading up. Another door at the foot of the stairs took them into what Fox guessed would have been a sitting room. Fireplace with antique mirror above it; intricate cornicing and ceiling rose. Mangold switched on some lights.
‘Marianne said it was urgent,’ he began, resting his hand against an electric radiator, then stooping to turn it on. ‘Should warm the place up,’ he said, rubbing his hands together.
‘Good lunch?’ Fox inquired. ‘New Club, was it?’
‘Ondine,’ Mangold corrected him.
‘The other night… you were waiting for guests…?’
‘Did Colin Cardonald happen to be one of them?’
Mangold shook his head. ‘Though I did spot him in the club that evening – dozing in his chair with the crossword half-finished.’ He checked his watch. ‘Did Marianne say?’
‘She told me I could only have fifteen minutes.’ Fox followed Mangold’s lead and seated himself at the polished oval table. ‘But that only holds if I’m working for you – which I’m not. I’m a police officer and this is a police matter, which means I take as long as I need.’
There was a knock and the coffee arrived, along with a bottle of water and two glasses. The receptionist asked Mangold if he wanted her to pour.
‘Yes please, Marianne.’
They waited until she’d gone, closing the door behind her. Mangold was gulping at the coffee, eyes closed.
‘Can’t drink like I used to,’ he explained. ‘And I do have a very full afternoon.’
‘Then I’ll get to the point – two points actually.’
‘I want to talk to Imogen Vernal.’
‘Impossible,’ Mangold said with a flutter of one hand. ‘Next point, please.’
‘If I don’t see her, I’ll drop off those two box files at the front desk and that’s the last you’ll hear from me.’
Mangold stared hard at Fox, pushing out his bottom lip. ‘What is it you need from her?’ he asked.
‘What is it you think you’re protecting her from?’
‘I’ve already told you – she’s very sick. I don’t want her to be made to feel even less comfortable.’ Mangold paused. ‘Second point,’ he commanded, reaching into his pocket for a voluminous handkerchief.
‘Not until we’ve dealt with the first.’
‘It has been dealt with,’ Mangold stated, wiping around the sides of his mouth.
‘I want her take on things,’ Fox decided to explain. ‘I want to hear her talk about her husband.’
‘I can tell you about Francis!’
‘You weren’t married to him, though.’
‘I knew him as well as Imogen did.’
Fox didn’t bother responding to this. Instead, he moved to item two.
‘All these groups of the time… the SRSL, SNLA, Dark Harvest Commando… I forget the Gaelic one…’
‘Siol Nan Gaidtheal.’
‘Seed of the Gael.’
‘How close was Vernal to them? I only know what I’ve read.’
‘Imogen can’t help you there. None of those rumours ever reached her.’
‘But you heard them?’
‘And believed them?’
‘I asked Francis a few times. He would just dismiss the suggestion with one of his looks.’
‘What’s your feeling, though?’
Mangold took a sip of coffee while he considered the question. ‘Was he an active paramilitary? No, I doubt that. But there are ways in which he could have helped.’
‘Money had to be raised, and then kept safe. Frank would have known what to do with it.’
Fox nodded. ‘He was their banker?’
‘I have absolutely no proof.’
‘Would he have kept the money on him?’
Mangold offered a shrug.
‘How much are we talking about?’
‘Thousands,’ Mangold speculated. ‘There were a few bank robberies early in the decade; a couple of security-van hold-ups.’
‘Claimed by the SNLA?’
‘Those were the stories at the time.’
‘All the years you worked with him – dodgy visitors… locked-door meetings… odd phone calls…?’
‘No more than any other lawyer,’ Mangold replied with a lopsided smile. He stared into the bottom of his cup. ‘I really do need to stop drinking at lunchtime. I’ll feel bloody awful later on.’ He glanced up at Fox. ‘Are we finished here, Inspector?’
‘Not quite. Did you ever hear names?’
‘Members of these various groups.’
‘MI5 would know more about that than me.’
‘But they’re not here right now…’
Mangold conceded the point and furrowed his brow in thought. ‘No, no names,’ he said at last.
‘Any of Vernal’s friends seem a bit out of place?’
‘We met all sorts, Inspector. You’d visit a couple of pubs and end up in the company of vagabonds and cut-throats. Never knew if you were going to wake up with a tattoo or an infection – or not wake up at all.’
Fox managed the smile he felt was expected of him. ‘How about your own politics, Mr Mangold?’
‘But back then?’
‘Broadly the same.’
‘Funny you were such good friends with a dyed-in-the-tweed nationalist.’ Fox paused. ‘Or is that where Mrs Vernal comes in?’
‘I’d rather she didn’t come into it at all,’ Mangold said quietly.
‘But she must,’ Fox insisted, dropping his own voice a little. Mangold looked suddenly tired and defeated. He held up his hands in surrender, then slapped them down against the table.
‘I’ll see what I can do.’ He paused, staring down at his cup again. ‘More coffee, I think.’
‘Thank you for your time.’ Fox started to get up. ‘But just remember – you came to me.’
‘Yes,’ Mangold said, with almost a trace of regret.
‘Oh, one other thing…’
Mangold had risen and was facing Fox.
‘Did Alan Carter ever mention the car to you?’
Mangold seemed confused. ‘What car?’
‘Francis Vernal’s Volvo.’
‘No, I don’t think so – why do you ask?’
‘No reason really,’ Fox said with a shrug. But inside he was thinking: What else did he keep from you… and why?
Mangold stayed in the room, Fox insisting that he could see himself out. He stopped at the receptionist’s desk. She looked up from her work and smiled.
‘Marianne, isn’t it?’ Fox enquired. She added a nod to her smile. ‘Something I’ve always meant to ask Charles and somehow keep forgetting…’
‘The firm’s name – Mangold Bain: is there still a Bain?’
‘It was Vernal Mangold,’ she explained.
‘Ah yes, until poor Francis died…’ He tried his best to sound like one of Mangold’s oldest clients. ‘You’re too young to have known him, of course?’
‘Of course,’ she agreed, looking slightly put out that he could mistake her for someone of that vintage.
‘So Mr Bain…?’ he prompted.
‘There’s never been a Mr Bain. It’s a maiden name.’
‘Mr Vernal’s widow Imogen?’ Fox guessed. ‘She’s a partner of some sort?’
‘Not that, no. Mr Mangold meant it as a… well, a kind of memorial, I suppose.’
‘Wouldn’t it have been more of a memorial if he’d just kept the name Vernal on the stationery?’ Fox asked. Marianne seemed never to have considered this. ‘Thanks for your help,’ Fox told her, bowing his head slightly and taking his leave.
Fox sat at his desk in the Complaints office, staring at the blank screen of his computer. Bob McEwan was taking a phone call. As ever, it seemed to concern the upcoming reorganisation. The Complaints would be swallowed up by ‘Standards and Values’. They would go, in the words of McEwan, from ‘micro’ to ‘macro’.
‘Just don’t ask me what that means.’
Fox had sent texts to both Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith and was waiting to hear back from them. He had thought about visiting the Central Library, digging into its newspaper archive. He had cuttings from the Scotsman, but not from the Herald or any other Scottish paper of the time. He doubted he would find anything. The media had soon lost whatever interest it had had in the story.
When the office door opened, Fox saw that the Chief Constable was leading a visitor inside. The Chief’s name was Jim Byars. He was in full uniform, peaked cap included, which meant he was on his way to a meeting or else was out to impress someone. The visitor was a man in his late forties with a tanned face, square jaw and greying hair. He wore a three-piece suit and what looked like a silk tie. A handkerchief was visible in his breast pocket.
‘Ah, Malcolm,’ the Chief Constable said. Then, for the guest’s benefit: ‘This is Professional Standards – PSU.’
‘The “rubber heels”?’ the visitor said with a slight smile. His accent was English. The hand he held out for Fox to shake bore no rings. Fox had glanced in McEwan’s direction. He could see that his boss was torn. It would be polite to end the call and greet the visitor, but he wanted Byars to know that he was earning his keep. He gave the Chief a wave, then motioned that he would wrap up the call. Byars’ gesture let him know this wasn’t necessary.
‘Just giving DCI Jackson the tour,’ the Chief explained to Fox. Then, to Jackson: ‘Malcolm Fox is an inspector – detective rank, but we don’t use the term.’
‘How’s your workload?’ Jackson asked Fox.
‘Manageable,’ Fox replied, wishing he had turned on his computer. His desk looked bare; half an inch of paperwork in the in-tray. Was Jackson something to do with the coming reorganisation? Was he seeking posts that could be cut? He had that look to him – a brisk, hard-nosed bean-counter.
‘Working in Fife, aren’t you?’ the Chief asked, frowning as he realised how stupid the question sounded.
‘Not today, sir. Rest of my team are.’ Fox swallowed. There was no reason to suppose the Chief Constable would know he’d been kicked into touch. Even if he did know, it wasn’t the sort of thing you wanted to advertise to a visitor. ‘What brings you here?’ Fox asked Jackson instead. Byars got in first with the answer.
‘DCI Jackson is based at Special Branch – anti-terrorism.’
‘Didn’t know we had much of that in Edinburgh,’ Fox felt obliged to state.
Jackson gave the same brief smile. ‘The blast in the forest outside Peebles?’ he offered. ‘And Lockerbie before that?’
Fox nodded to let him know he’d heard.
‘We’re thinking they may have been a trial run, Inspector.’
‘Anywhere would have done.’ Jackson paused. ‘Remember Glasgow Airport? The perpetrators lived quietly in the suburbs.’
‘And as Peebles is part of Lothian and Borders,’ Byars explained, ‘we’re assisting DCI Jackson and his team.’
Not quite a bean-counter, then.
Jackson was looking around the office, as if filing every detail of it away. Bob McEwan was trying desperately to wind up his conversation. ‘What’s happening in Fife?’ the Englishman asked.
‘Not much,’ Fox said.
‘CID officer,’ Byars told Jackson. ‘In court for overstepping the line. We’ve been asked to check whether his colleagues covered up for him.’
Jackson looked at Fox, and Fox knew what he was thinking: I’m with you, chum – never give away more than you have to.
McEwan had ended the call and was coming towards them. Byars made the fresh round of introductions and explanations.
‘Interesting,’ McEwan said, folding his arms. ‘Never goes away, does it?’
‘How do you mean?’ Jackson asked him.
‘Domestic terrorism. Malcolm’s latest case has an angle…’
‘Really?’ Jackson sounded suddenly interested.
It had to be Naysmith. Had to be Joe Naysmith who’d let it slip to McEwan.
Fox made show of shrugging it off. ‘A very slight connection,’ he mooted.
But Jackson was not to be deflected. ‘As in?’ he prompted.
‘Someone Malcolm interviewed,’ McEwan obliged. ‘He was doing some research into a lawyer who got himself involved with Scottish separatists.’
‘Quarter of a century back,’ Fox stressed.
The Chief Constable looked at Jackson. ‘Not quite the same as your Peebleshire bombers.’
‘Not quite,’ Jackson admitted. His next question was aimed at Fox: ‘What happened to the lawyer?’
‘Died in a car crash,’ Fox stated.
‘Unlike the researcher,’ McEwan added. ‘He put a revolver to his head.’
‘Dearie me,’ Jackson said. Then he gave Fox that same unnerving smile again.
When Naysmith called Fox’s mobile an hour or so later, Fox was alone in the office, McEwan having left for yet another meeting elsewhere in the building. Before Naysmith could say anything, Fox thanked him for telling McEwan all about Alan Carter and Francis Vernal.
‘He just asked me what I was up to,’ Naysmith responded.
‘Well, thanks anyway. Now we’ve got Special Branch interested.’ Fox went on to explain the circumstances.
‘Could be a bonus,’ Naysmith argued. ‘Can’t you ask him if there’s anything in the files on Vernal? Whether he really was being spied on?’
‘You think he’d tell me, even if he knew? This was twenty-odd years ago – reckon the spooks have instant access?’
‘Maybe not,’ Naysmith conceded. ‘But how else are we going to find out if they were keeping tabs on him?’
‘We aren’t,’ Fox said eventually. There was silence on the line for a moment.
‘Want to hear what I’ve got?’ Naysmith asked.
‘What have you got?’
‘You spoke to him?’
‘He’s a good age now, but what a memory. When I said as much, he joked that it was because so much of his business was kept off the books. Told me I could grass him up to the taxman if I liked…’
‘But you got round to asking about the car eventually?’
‘He remembered it well. Tow-truck brought it in, but it was there hardly any time at all before someone came asking for it to be taken elsewhere.’
‘Gavin Willis?’ Fox guessed.
‘The very same,’ Naysmith confirmed. ‘They got it as far as the cottage, but it took four of them to push it up the slope into the garage.’
‘Did he tell them why he wanted it?’
‘I don’t think anybody asked. He paid Barron in cash and that was that.’
‘And no one came to the scrapyard asking for it?’
‘Willis slipped Mr Barron an extra twenty and told him to say it had gone into the crusher.’
‘And Barron never bothered asking why?’
‘The way he put it was, when a cop tells you to do something, you do it.’
‘I’m not sure that’s so true these days.’ Fox thought for a moment. ‘Willis worked the firearms detail,’ he informed Naysmith. ‘Could have pocketed the revolver that was used on Alan Carter.’
‘I’m still not sure. Did Barron remember anything else about the car? He didn’t swipe anything from it?’
‘Nothing he’s admitting to.’
‘Then that’s that,’ Fox said, pacing the empty office.
‘What do you want me to do next, Malcolm?’
‘Gavin Willis – I wouldn’t mind knowing how and when he died. Maybe he’s got some family left…’
‘I can check.’ Naysmith sounded as if he was writing himself a note to that effect.
‘Have you seen Tony?’ Fox asked.
‘Told me he was taking Billie and Bekkah out for coffee.’
‘The hairdressers?’ Fox stopped by the window. He had a view towards the car park, with Fettes College behind it. The pupils seemed to be heading home, a line of parental cars waiting to collect most of them. ‘What’s his thinking?’
‘Hormonal?’ Naysmith guessed.
Fox saw DCI Jackson being escorted to his car by the Chief Constable. Jackson had his own driver; nice executive saloon, too. He got into the back, Byars closing the door for him. As the car pulled away, a window slid down. Jackson was staring up towards the Complaints office. There was no way he could see Fox standing there, but Fox backed away all the same, though he wasn’t exactly sure why.
Francis Vernal’s widow lived in a detached Victorian mansion house in the Grange district of the city. The narrow streets were devoid of traffic and pedestrians. Almost no homes were visible. They remained hidden, like their owners and those owners’ wealth, behind high stone walls and solid wooden gates. Charles Mangold had been adamant that Fox could only visit if Mangold accompanied him. Fox had been just as adamant that this was a non-starter. Nevertheless, Mangold was waiting in an idling black taxi as Fox approached the driveway. As Fox got out of the car to announce his arrival at the intercom, Mangold emerged from the back of the cab.
‘I have to insist,’ the lawyer was saying.
‘Insist all you like.’
‘What if Imogen wants me there?’
‘She can tell me that to my face. But you stay this side of the gates until she does.’
Mangold looked furious but said nothing. He spluttered his way back to the taxi, slamming the door after him. Fox told the intercom he had an appointment. The gates swung back on themselves with a motorised hum, and he returned to his car. It was a long, winding driveway, with thick shrubbery to either side. Fox emerged into a gravelled parking area in front of the two-storey gabled house. It was dusk, birds roosting in the well-established trees. He locked his car from habit only. The front door to the house was open, a woman in her thirties standing there. She introduced herself as Eileen Carpenter.
‘I look after Mrs Vernal.’
‘Her nurse, you mean?’
‘And other things besides.’
The hall smelled musty, but had been dusted. Carpenter asked him if he wanted some tea.
‘Please,’ he answered, following her into the drawing room. It boasted a huge bay window. Imogen Vernal’s chair had been placed so that it faced the garden to the side of the property.
‘You’ll forgive me if I don’t get up,’ she said. Fox introduced himself and shook her hand. Her ash-blonde hair was thin and wispy, and there were lesions on her cheeks and forehead. Her skin was almost transparent, the veins showing. Fox reckoned she couldn’t weigh more than seven and a half stone. But her eyes, though tired, were lively enough, the pupils dilated by recent medication.
There was a dining-room chair to one side of her, and Fox seated himself. A book was open on the floor – a hardback copy of a Charles Dickens novel. Fox presumed one of Eileen Carpenter’s tasks was to read to her employer.
‘Quite a house,’ Fox said.
‘Did you live here with your husband?’
‘My parents bought it for us – a wedding gift.’
‘Rich parents,’ she corrected him with a smile.
There were framed photographs of her husband on the mantelpiece. One looked familiar: the orator in full flow, fist clenched as he addressed his audience.
‘I wish I’d heard him speak,’ Fox said truthfully.
‘I think I have some recordings.’ She paused and raised a finger. ‘No,’ she corrected herself, ‘I donated them to the National Library – along with his books and papers. People have done their PhDs on him, you know. When he died, an American senator wrote an obituary for the Washington Post.’ She nodded at the memory.
‘He was quite a character,’ Fox agreed. ‘In public.’
Her eyes narrowed a little. ‘Charles told me about you, Inspector. Such a pity about the other man, the one who passed away…’ She paused. ‘Is Charles outside the gates?’
‘He’s very protective.’
‘Was he one of your lovers?’
She took her time answering, as if wondering how to respond. ‘You make me sound like a Jezebel.’ Her voice was becoming more noticeably Scottish.
‘It’s just that he seems to have a great deal of affection for you.’
‘He does,’ she agreed.
‘And there were always the rumours that your marriage had been stormy.’
‘Stormy?’ She considered the word. ‘Not a bad description.’
‘How did the two of you meet?’
‘Manning the barricades.’
‘Almost – a sit-in at the university. I think we were protesting against Vietnam.’ She seemed to be thinking back. ‘Although it could have been apartheid, or Rhodesia. He was already a lawyer; I was a student. We hit it off…’
‘Despite the age gap?’
‘My parents didn’t approve at first,’ she conceded.
‘Was Mr Vernal a nationalist back then?’
‘He was a communist in his youth. Then it was the Labour Party. Nationalism came later.’
‘You shared his politics?’
She studied him. ‘I’m not sure what it is you want from me, Inspector.’
‘I just felt we should meet.’
She was still mulling this over when Eileen Carpenter arrived with a tray. The teapot was small, and there was just the one bone-china cup and saucer. It was loose-leaf tea, accompanied by a silver strainer. Fox thanked her. She asked her employer if anything else was needed.
‘We’re fine, I think,’ Imogen Vernal replied. ‘You might want to let Charles know.’ Then, for Fox’s benefit: ‘He’ll be waiting for her to send him a message.’
A little colour was rising to Carpenter’s cheeks as she left the room.
‘She’s not a spy, exactly,’ Imogen Vernal told Fox. ‘But Charles will keep fussing…’
Fox poured tea for himself. ‘You know why he hired Alan Carter?’ he asked.
‘To clear up my husband’s murder.’
‘You’re sure in your own mind that it was murder?’
‘Did you say as much at the time? I don’t recall the newspapers mentioning it.’
‘To be quite honest with you, I was a little bit afraid.’
Fox accepted this. ‘But all you have are suspicions – no actual evidence?’
‘No more than you’ll have gleaned,’ she conceded, placing her hands on her lap.
‘Not an option: Francis was too much of a coward. It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. I told them I was coming off the chemo and everything else – it was too, too much. There’s morphine for the pain, but you can still feel it, just beyond the cotton wool. Suicide had to be considered, but that particular course of action takes a certain bravery. I’m not brave, and neither was Francis.’
‘He wasn’t ill, was he?’
‘Strong as an ox.’
‘Despite the cigarettes?’
‘Had there been a falling-out?’
‘No more so than usual.’
‘That stormy relationship again?’
‘Stormy rather than rocky. Has anyone used the word “firebrand” in connection with him?’ She watched as Fox nodded his reply. ‘I’d be disappointed had they not – that was Francis, you see: in his life, his work, his politics. He didn’t care if you were for him or against him, so long as you had fire in your belly.’
‘There’s a cairn near where he died…’
‘Charles had it placed there.’
‘And the yearly bouquet?’
Fox leaned forward a little. ‘Who do you think killed him, Mrs Vernal?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘The period leading up to his death… had he been worried about anything?’
‘He thought he was being watched.’
‘That pleased him: it meant he was “getting to them”.’
‘The establishment, I suppose.’
‘And how was he getting to them?’
‘His speeches. His power to change people’s minds.’
‘The polls suggest he wasn’t changing too many minds.’
She dismissed this with a toss of her head. ‘Everyone he met… he had an effect on them.’
She paused and watched Fox bring out the photograph of her husband with Chris Fox.
‘Do you know this man?’ he asked her.
‘His name’s Chris Fox. He died in a motorbike crash, a few years before your husband. It happened near Burntisland.’
She considered this. ‘Not so far from where they killed Francis. You think there’s a connection?’
‘He shares your surname.’
‘He was my father’s cousin.’
She looked at him. ‘Did he know Francis well?’
‘I’ve no idea.’ Fox studied the picture again before returning it to his pocket. He took another sip of tea. ‘I’ve heard break-ins mentioned…’
‘Yes – here and at the office. Two in as many weeks.’
‘Reported to the police?’
She nodded. ‘No one was ever caught.’
‘Was much taken?’
‘Money and jewellery.’
‘None of your husband’s papers?’
‘Did Francis ever discuss breaking the law himself?’
‘How do you mean?’ She seemed to be focusing on the view from the window, even though it was now dark and the garden was invisible.
‘He was said to be close to certain groups…’
‘He never spoke about it.’
‘But it’s not exactly news to you?’
‘He knew a lot of people, Inspector – I dare say one or two wanted to take the struggle that bit further than the law of the time would allow.’
‘And he would have supported that view?’
‘Do any names come to mind?’
She shook her head. ‘You’re thinking,’ she said, ‘that political friends sometimes turn into foes. But if Francis had enemies – real enemies, I mean – he kept them to himself.’
‘But you know he supported paramilitary groups? Mr Mangold seems to think you’d no inkling.’
‘Charles doesn’t know everything.’
Fox took another sip of tea and placed the cup and saucer back on the tray. The room was silent for the best part of a minute. He got the feeling that when she was left alone, this was how she sat – calm and still and waiting for death, staring at her reflection in the window, the rest of the world lost somewhere beyond. He was reminded of his father: I don’t sleep… I just lie here…
Eventually, he cleared his throat. ‘What do you think he was doing on that particular road?’ he asked.
‘Politically, you mean?’
He smiled at the error. ‘No, the road between Anstruther and St Andrews.’
‘It was the weekend,’ she said, her voice fading a little. ‘He often spent weekends in Fife.’
‘On his own?’
‘Not with me.’
He knew from her tone what she meant. ‘Other women?’ he suggested. She gave the slightest of nods. ‘Many?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘He used the weekend house?’
‘I suppose so.’ She looked down at her lap and brushed something from it, something Fox couldn’t see.
‘And Anstruther…?’ he prompted, waiting her out. Eventually she gave a sigh and took a deep breath.
‘That’s where she lived.’ She fixed him with a stare. ‘I was quite a catch when Francis met me, but maybe you know what it’s like.’
‘A little,’ he offered, since she had waited for his response.
‘She was a student too. Alice Watts – that was the name.’
‘He told you?’
She shook her head. ‘Letters from her. Hidden in his office desk. It was months before I came across them – there was so much to be gone through.’
‘She lived in Anstruther?’
Imogen Vernal was staring at the window again. ‘She was studying politics and philosophy at St Andrews. He gave a talk to the students and she met him afterwards. I suppose you’d call her a groupie.’ Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. ‘I’ve not told anyone about her.’
She shook her head.
‘So Alan Carter wouldn’t have known either?’
‘I suppose Charles might have known,’ she said. ‘He was Francis’s friend, after all. Men sometimes talk to one another, don’t they? When they’re out drinking.’
Fox conceded that they did. The temperature in the room had dropped a few degrees – the thick floor-length curtains should be closed and the gas fire turned on.
‘I want to thank you for seeing me and for being so open,’ Fox said. ‘Maybe we can talk again?’
But Vernal’s widow wasn’t finished with him. ‘I went looking for her, you know. I felt I needed to see her – not talk to her, just see her. I had her address from the letters. But when I went there, she’d packed up and left. The university told me she’d quit her course.’ She paused. ‘So I suppose it’s just possible she may have loved him.’
‘Do you still have those letters, Mrs Vernal?’
She nodded. ‘I wondered whether you would ask.’ She reached down the side of her chair and produced them, still in their envelopes. They bore neither addresses nor stamps. Hand-delivered, then.
Fox turned them over in his hands without opening them. ‘You were prepared,’ he stated. ‘Why am I the first person you’ve told?’
She smiled at him. ‘You insisted on coming here alone,’ she explained. ‘You stood up to Charles. That speaks to me of a certain something… a quality.’
‘You know some of the rumours of the time?’ he felt able to ask. ‘The papers hinted that you’d had a string of lovers, and maybe one of them had…’
‘You don’t believe that,’ she stated. ‘Francis was the only man I loved – and I still do. Goodbye, Inspector. Thank you for coming.’ She broke off, and thought of something else. ‘You asked me earlier who killed him. In a sense, I think we all did. But if I were to place a wager, I’d say the odds favoured your own kind.’
‘Meaning the police?’
‘Police, Secret Service – you’ll know better than I do. But take heed, Inspector: the man Charles employed ended up dead. You’d best be careful.’
‘Why do you think Mangold hired him in the first place?’
‘I thought I’d already answered that. Why do you think he did?’
‘To solve the mystery while you’re both still alive to hear it.’
She considered this, then shook her head slowly. ‘Perhaps.’
‘What other reason?’
‘Charles wants me to think less of Francis, so I’ll think more of him.’
‘He wants to prove that your husband consorted with bombers as well as women?’
She gave a thin smile. ‘Leading to my deathbed conversion. I recant and clasp Charles to my bosom – metaphorically speaking or otherwise.’
‘That sounds unlikely to me.’
‘Please don’t misunderstand: Charles has been a good friend, loving and loyal.’
‘But not as reciprocal as he would like?’
‘And adding your maiden name to his law firm…?’
‘Part of the wooing,’ she agreed. ‘Should I feel flattered, do you think?’
Fox had no answer to that. As he left the vast and underfurnished drawing room, he could see her reflection in the window, just as she could see his.
Fox lay in bed that night thinking of Imogen Vernal. She had given up on the chemo, but hadn’t given up on life. She still loved her husband. She was loved, in turn, by Charles Mangold. He wondered whether the widow was rich – an inheritance from her parents; money left by her husband – or whether Mangold was paying for Eileen Carpenter and everything else. He thought of his own father, fighting hard against dementia, regular visits from son and daughter, trips to the seafront at Portobello, ice cream on his chin until a handkerchief could be produced…
The letters from Alice Watts to Francis Vernal were more like essays – lengthy, discursive, political. There were moments of emotion too, but no purple prose, no drawings of hearts pierced by arrows – and no rows of kisses at the end. Fox couldn’t tell if Vernal had ever written her letters of his own. It was obvious he was a regular visitor to Anstruther, but the letters were not dated. Judging by the few contemporary events she mentioned, they had to be from 1984 and ’85.
His phone was charging on the bedside cabinet. When it rang, he had to unplug it before answering. It was Evelyn Mills, calling him at eleven p.m.
‘Did I wake you?’
There was silence on the line for a moment. ‘Funny, isn’t it?’ she eventually answered, her voice slightly nasal. ‘You coming into my life again. Coming into my life right now, I mean.’ Fox realised she had been drinking.
‘Things are a bit shaky at home?’
‘No… not really.’ She seemed to recall the lateness of the hour. ‘I should have waited till morning.’
‘Freddie’s a lovely man, you know.’
‘I’m sure he is.’
‘If you met him, the two of you would hit it off. Everybody likes Freddie.’
There was more silence on the line. ‘I’ve forgotten why I was calling you,’ she admitted.
‘Maybe just for a chat.’
‘No, hang on, I remember now. Paul Carter’s been talking to Scholes.’
‘He seems scared, and not sure who to trust. He as good as asked Scholes if he’d had something to do with the uncle’s death.’
‘What did Scholes say?’
‘Told him he was off his head.’
‘They seemed to be talking freely?’
‘Nothing to suggest they think there might be a tap.’
‘Have you told this to Kaye and Naysmith?’
‘Not yet. Should I be giving them the recording?’
‘They’re the ones on the ground.’ He paused. ‘Any news from the Alan Carter inquiry?’
‘The wheels are turning.’
‘How close are they to charging the nephew?’
‘Nobody knows if we’re even calling it a murder.’
‘“The death is being treated as suspicious”?’ Fox said, quoting the exact words the media would have been given.
‘Advice is being taken from the Procurator Fiscal,’ Mills commented. ‘Everything all right at your end?’
‘Feet up, relaxing.’
‘Lucky me,’ Fox echoed.
‘I should go.’
‘Any time you want a chat, Evelyn…’
‘Thanks, Malcolm.’ She paused again. ‘As you know from bitter experience, a few glasses of wine and my defences begin to crumble.’
‘I blame myself.’
‘I was the sober one that night.’
‘It’s not like you took advantage of me.’
‘But all the same…’
She started to sing a slurred snatch of Edith Piaf, then broke into a tired laugh.
‘Maybe a glass or two of water before bed,’ Fox advised.
‘That’s what Freddie always says.’ The sigh she gave translated into a crackling on the line.
‘Good night, Evelyn.’
He plugged the phone back into its charger and lay down again, head against the pillow, eyes closed. The bedside lamp was on, but he liked it that way. When he got up in the morning, he would switch it off before opening the curtains. He placed his hands behind his head and opened his eyes to stare at the ceiling. He would drift off to sleep eventually.
He always did.
But first, he had some more thinking to do.
The morning was blustery. Fox parked on the esplanade and got into the back seat of the car next to his.
‘Coffee,’ Joe Naysmith said, handing him a takeaway. Fox thanked him and removed the lid. The liquid was tepid but drinkable.
‘Keeping our seats warm for us at Fettes?’ Tony Kaye asked.
‘Little visit yesterday from Special Branch,’ Fox informed him. ‘They’ve got their eye on those explosions.’
‘Kids with fireworks,’ Kaye said. ‘I’d bet the house on it. Suits the spooks to act as though it’s serious – keeps punters worried and them in their cushy little jobs.’
‘Since when did kids put together nail bombs?’ Fox countered.
‘You saying we’ve got to start watching out for a tartan jihad?’ Kaye rolled his eyes. ‘As if we didn’t have enough on our plates.’
‘Maybe the Dark Harvest Commando are back,’ Naysmith added.
‘Aye, you and Malcolm should paddle out to Anthrax Island, see if they’re digging it up again.’ Kaye shook his head slowly.
‘But in the meantime…’ Fox prompted.
‘Got a call from your pal Mills this morning,’ Kaye obliged. ‘I was hardly out of the shower – she’s a keen one, isn’t she?’
‘What did she say?’
‘A little present would be waiting for us in reception.’
Naysmith held up a memory stick. He then reached down and produced his laptop from the floor between his feet. The three men finished their drinks as they listened to the telephone recording. It had been logged at eight ten the previous evening, and the quality was variable.
‘That’s me just home,’ Paul Carter complained. ‘Ten hours of questions.’
‘Harsh,’ Ray Scholes offered.
‘Harsh is right. Someone’s knifing me in the gonads here.’
‘You remember the Shafiqs? I’ve been wondering if one of the sons maybe held a grudge.’
‘That was last year.’
‘Well, I’ve offered it to Cash anyway.’
Naysmith turned in his seat. ‘I did a quick check: the Shafiqs own a range of businesses all across Fife.’
Fox nodded and continued listening.
‘Your uncle had a few headcases on his books,’ Scholes was saying. ‘Tosh Garioch, Mel Stuart…’
‘I know them,’ Carter said.
‘Then you’ll know they’ve both done time. Short-fuse merchants pumped up from bodybuilding and illegal supplements.’
‘Uncle Alan had them working as doormen.’
‘And you’re thinking they might’ve had a grievance?’
‘Not really,’ Scholes eventually admitted.
‘CID seem to think the only one around here with a motive is yours truly.’
‘I’m doing my best, mate.’
‘Look, Ray,’ Carter responded, ‘I can appreciate you might’ve thought you were doing me a favour-’
‘Let me stop you right there, Paul. No way I had anything to do with this, so let’s get that clear in our minds.’
‘What about Gary or Mark?’ Meaning Michaelson and Haldane.
‘You’re grasping at the wrong straws.’
‘Sounds to me like you think I did it.’
‘Nothing’s for certain yet – the crime scene might look a bit wonky, but it’s suicide until proven otherwise.’
‘I didn’t kill him, Ray.’
‘That’s what I’m saying – maybe nobody did.’ There was the sound of a door opening and a woman’s voice. ‘I’ve got to go, Paul,’ Scholes said, sounding relieved rather than apologetic. ‘Stay strong, eh?’
‘Can I come over?’
‘Not tonight, mate.’
‘I’m… sorry. About everything.’
‘You’ll beat this, Paul – you’re Mr Non-Stick, remember?’
‘Non-Stick,’ Paul Carter echoed, sounding tired and not nearly convinced.
Naysmith closed the laptop. ‘End of,’ he stated.
‘Carter said he was sorry,’ Kaye stated. ‘Presumably for all the shite he’s put Scholes through – including perjuring himself.’
‘Bit of detail would have been nice,’ Naysmith argued. ‘What do you think, Malcolm?’
‘He’s pretty adamant he didn’t top his uncle.’
‘Aye,’ Kaye retorted, ‘like he was adamant in court he didn’t do anything to those women.’
‘Speaking of which…’ Fox prompted.
‘I spoke to Billie and Bekkah again,’ Kaye obliged. ‘Interesting that Scholes mentioned those two knuckle-draggers: Tosh Garioch happens to be Billie’s current squeeze.’ Kaye turned in his seat so he was facing Fox. ‘It was when you mentioned that Alan Carter’s company employed doormen…’
‘You thought you’d see if the two connected?’ Fox nodded slowly. ‘And they do.’
‘Coincidence, eh?’ Kaye said with a twitch of the mouth. ‘Alan Carter doesn’t get on with his nephew… makes a complaint about him… nothing much comes of it until Teresa Collins changes her mind and Billie and Bekkah come forward.’
‘And Billie’s boyfriend,’ Naysmith added, ‘happens to work for the uncle.’
‘So what’s your thinking?’
‘Bit more digging required,’ Kaye answered. ‘But I’m just beginning to see a glimmer of light.’
‘Paul Carter was set up by his uncle?’
‘If so,’ Naysmith argued, ‘even more reason to hold that grudge.’
‘Which puts him back in the frame for the murder.’
‘If it was murder.’ It was Naysmith’s turn to twist in his seat so he could make eye contact with Fox. ‘What if Alan Carter wanted to get his nephew in even deeper shit? He’s already decided to do away with himself. He phones Paul so it’ll be on record as the last call he made – knowing Paul will then have some awkward questions to answer.’
‘Been watching Midsomer Murders, Joe?’ Kaye asked with a snort.
‘It’s a scenario,’ Fox conceded. Having finished his coffee, he pushed the plastic lid into the crushed cup. ‘Have you got anything for me about Gavin Willis?’
‘You could try asking Alec Robinson.’
‘The desk sergeant.’
‘He looks at me like I’ve just nicked all his pens,’ Naysmith complained.
‘Other person who might help is Superintendent Hendryson – he ran the show before Pitkethly was brought in.’
‘Steady on, Foxy,’ Kaye said. ‘The lad’ll start thinking he’s a proper grown-up detective.’
‘How about you, Tony? Enjoying being your own boss?’
‘I like it fine.’
‘But you’re starting to think maybe the case against Paul Carter was flawed?’
‘Don’t be so sure. I had Carter on the phone on Friday, just after they lifted him. He admitted that he’d “pulled a few stunts” down the years.’
‘His exact words?’
Fox confirmed as much with a nod.
‘Why did he phone you?’ Naysmith asked.
‘He’s not sure who he can trust.’
Kaye seemed to ponder this. ‘I was going to try talking to Teresa Collins again,’ he confided. ‘Neutral territory – maybe a cafe or a pub. You know she’s out of hospital?’
‘The shrink gave her the all-clear?’
‘All I know is, she’s back home.’
‘You’ll be sure to go easy on her?’
‘I can do the empathy thing,’ Kaye stated.
‘A nation rejoices,’ Malcolm Fox said.
The geography of St Andrews defeated Fox.
On paper it looked fine. A road led you into the town, after which there were a couple of main shopping streets parallel to one another. But he had an hour to explore the place on foot, and kept finding new angles. Golf course – yes, there was a golf course, naturally enough. Two beaches, one at either end of it. But there was also a ruined castle. A tower. And tucked between venerable college buildings, he caught glimpses of new architecture: glass and steel. And a harbour – St Andrews had a harbour, too, not far from its sea pool. There were no bathers brave enough today. Cliffs… with signs warning the unwary, and regular jet-fighters screaming across the sky, reminding him that there was an RAF base not too far away.
Plenty of students seemed perfectly at ease, running around this maze without getting lost. Elderly residents shared relaxed pavement gossip. Smiling tourists sought cream teas, tartan travel rugs and whisky miniatures shaped like golf balls. But having parked his car on what he thought was the main drag, it took Fox several goes to find it again, by which time he was flustered and annoyed with himself. Two main streets: how hard could it be?
He was kicking his heels because, having eventually found the right person at the university, they had then informed him that it might take an hour or two to come up with anything. The assistant in the registry and admissions office had made it sound like Fox only had himself to blame. She had jotted down what details he had – Alice Watts/Politics and Phil/1985.
‘Date of birth?’
He’d shaken his head.
Another shake. ‘Term-time, she stayed in Anstruther.’
‘Year of entry?’
‘I’m not sure. Sorry.’
So there he was, exploring the town and finding himself intrigued by the way its disparate elements somehow didn’t drive everyone slightly mad. He compared it to Edinburgh: students, tourists and residents, all finding space and creating the place in their own image. He had passed up an elegant glass box of a restaurant on the seafront for a tuna-melt panini in the cafe attached to the Byre Theatre. He had jotted down some notes based on his morning conversation with Kaye and Naysmith. He had forgotten to take a contact number from the assistant, so couldn’t check whether enough time had elapsed. Buying a newspaper for company, he headed back to her office but she was nowhere to be seen. A young man was there instead. He wore a sleeveless jumper and a bow tie, and asked Fox to take a seat. While Fox skimmed the Independent, he was aware of the man studying him surreptitiously. No doubt he had been warned that Fox was a police officer. Whenever Fox tried meeting his stare, he would go back to his computer screen, his fingers busy with keyboard and mouse.
‘Sorry,’ the female assistant said, entering briskly by the same door as Fox. She returned to her own side of the desk, removing her coat and hanging it on a peg, then patting her hair back into place. ‘Took quite a bit of digging.’ She had been carrying a large brown envelope. As Fox approached the counter, she pulled a few A4 sheets from it.
‘This is what we have,’ she said.
Alice Watts had been born in Glasgow in March 1965, making her twenty at the time of Vernal’s death. She had enrolled at St Andrews in September 1983. There were two passport-sized matriculation photos of her, one from 1983 and the other from ’84. She had changed dramatically inside a year – mousy and deferential-looking in the first; tousle-haired and determined in the second. In her first year she had stayed in a hall of residence; by second year she was renting the Anstruther address.
‘Bit of a hike,’ Fox commented as he read.
‘But Anstruther’s lovely,’ the female assistant argued.
Her home address was a street with a Glasgow postcode. There was a phone number too. Fox flicked to another sheet and saw that it listed her exam passes along with progress reports from relevant members of staff. He would have called these reports ‘glowing’ to begin with, but then tutors had started to notice that Alice was spending more time ‘on demos than essays’. She was ‘increasingly active in student politics, to the detriment of her studies’. Fox turned the sheets over, but they were printed on one side only.
‘Nothing after second year?’ he commented.
The assistant shook her head and pointed to the relevant text. Alice had stopped attending St Andrews altogether. Letters had been sent to her Anstruther address and eventually to her family home. She had responded to none of them. Fox checked the relevant dates. As the widow had said, after Francis Vernal’s death, Alice had wanted nothing more to do with her university.
‘Never heard from again,’ the assistant said. Then, leaning towards Fox and dropping her voice: ‘Has she been murdered?’
Fox stared at her and shook his head.
‘What then?’ Her eyes had widened, eager for details. Her male colleague had stopped typing and was paying close attention.
Fox kept his counsel, holding up the sheets. ‘I’m taking these with me,’ he informed the assistant. ‘All right?’
‘The originals need to stay here,’ she said, failing to hide her disappointment in him. ‘I’ll have to make you copies of them.’
‘Will that take long?’
‘A couple of minutes.’
Fox nodded his satisfaction with this, then noticed that she was holding out her hand, palm upwards.
‘It’s thirty pence per sheet,’ she informed him. ‘Unless you have a student card…’
The Anstruther address was a flat overlooking the harbour. So many day-trippers were queuing at the fish and chip shop, they had spilled out on to the pavement. The woman who lived in the flat was an artist. She offered Fox some herbal tea but little else. She had bought the place from the previous owner, who had died of old age. Yes, it had been a rental property at one time, but she had no details. Mail sometimes arrived for people she’d never heard of, but she just threw it in the bin. She didn’t recognise the name Alice Watts, and none of the old tenants had ever paid a visit. Fox made show of admiring her work – the walls were covered in vibrant paintings of fishing boats, harbours and coastlines – and left her to it, but only after she’d pressed a business card on him and informed him that she did commissions.
‘I’ll bear that in mind,’ he said, making good his escape.
He considered a trip to Glasgow – it would take maybe ninety minutes – but made a few calls from his car instead. Eventually someone got back to him from Govan police station. The officer had driven out to the address himself.
‘It’s an office block,’ he informed Fox.
‘Offices?’ Fox frowned as he stared at Alice Watts’s university details. ‘How long has it been like that?’
‘It was a warehouse until 1982. Renovated in ’83.’ Nineteen eighty-three: the year Watts had arrived at St Andrews.
‘I must have the wrong address.’
‘Reckon so,’ the officer agreed. ‘No housing in that street at all.
Far as I can tell, never has been.’ Fox thanked him and ended the call. He tried Alice Watts’s home phone number again. The constant tone told him no such number existed. He held the two photos of Alice next to one another. A low sun had broken from behind the clouds, causing him to lower his windscreen visor. Even with the windows closed, he could smell batter and oil from the chippy.
‘I’ve got a gun that shouldn’t exist and a student who’s vanished without trace,’ he explained to the photographs. ‘So I have to wonder, Alice – just who the hell are you?’
And where was she now?
‘Thanks for meeting me,’ Tony Kaye said.
The cafe was in a tired-looking shopping centre next to the bus station, all strip lighting and bargain bins. Teresa Collins had dark rings under her eyes, and he reckoned the stains on her clothes were blood from a few days earlier. He’d actually gone back to her street, sitting in the Mondeo for a time. Smears on her living-room window – blood again. He hadn’t gone to see her, though. Instead he had pushed a note through her door with his phone number and request, then waited for her to get back to him.
‘I’m starving,’ she said, pushing the matted hair out of her eyes. There were faded home-made tattoos on the backs of her hands, and one wrist was bandaged, the other needing nothing more than a large sticking plaster. He pushed the menu towards her.
‘Whatever you like,’ he said.
She ordered a banana split and a mug of hot chocolate.
‘I wanted to apologise about the other day,’ he said, once the order had been placed.
‘And it’s true about Paul Carter? He’s been done for murder?’
Kaye nodded, seeing little harm in the lie. ‘So he won’t be bothering you again.’
‘Poor man,’ she muttered.
‘Paul, you mean?’
She shook her head. ‘The one he killed.’
He could see she was itching for a cigarette. The pack was on the table in front of her, and her fingers played with a cheap plastic lighter. But when the dessert arrived, she tucked in. Three sachets of sugar were added to the accompanying drink. There was something almost childlike about the way her face softened as she ate, as though she were remembering past pleasures.
‘Good?’ he asked.
‘Yeah.’ But as soon as she’d finished, she asked if they could leave. He paid the bill, leaving his own coffee untouched, and she led him out on to the high street, lighting the needed cigarette and inhaling deeply.
‘Where do you want to go?’ he asked.
She shrugged and kept walking. They crossed at some lights. He knew they were headed in the vague direction of the football park.
‘Town’s seen better days,’ he speculated.
‘Seen worse ones, too.’
‘You’ve always lived here?’
‘I went to London once – hated it.’
‘How long were you there for?’
‘Until the money ran out. Took me nearly three days to hitch home.’
The shops thinned out, many of them looking closed permanently. A few high-rises separated them from the seafront. She walked towards one of them and in through a broken set of doors, stopping at the lift.
‘Want to show you something,’ she told him. The lift jolted them upwards to the top floor. When they stepped out on to the walkway, the wind hit them hard. She stretched her arms wide, facing the onslaught of air.
‘Loved coming here as a kid,’ she explained. ‘Always expected to be lifted clean off my feet and taken somewhere else.’
Kaye stared at the drop, and felt a moment’s giddiness. Instead, he focused on the view across the water towards Edinburgh.
‘I had an auntie lived here,’ Teresa Collins was saying. ‘She wasn’t really an auntie, just my mum’s pal. I got to stay with her when my dad was home.’ She saw that Kaye didn’t quite understand. ‘He was in the army – lots of time away. When he came back, there was always booze and shagging and then maybe a few slaps.’
‘Your mum didn’t want you to see it?’
Collins shrugged. ‘Either that or she didn’t want him starting on me.’ She paused, fixing him with a look. ‘All the places he went… stories he told… he never brought me back a present. Not once. Men are right bastards, eh? Never met one that wasn’t.’
‘That makes me a bastard, then.’
She didn’t deny it, but tried lighting a fresh cigarette instead. He held his coat open to shelter the lighter’s flame.
‘Thanks,’ she said, leaning over the wall of the walkway, exhaling a stream of smoke.
‘What happened to your auntie?’ he asked.
‘Moved away. Then I heard she’d died.’
‘Your mum and dad?’
‘Mum had a stroke. Died a year later. No idea where my dad is.’
‘Do you want to know?’
She shook her head.
‘No man in your life at the moment, Teresa?’
‘Now and again,’ she admitted. ‘But only when I’m short of cash.’ The smile was rueful. ‘You got any cash to spare?’
‘I could lend you twenty.’
She looked at him. ‘And why would you do that, Mr Policeman?’
He shrugged, pushing his hands deep into his coat pockets.
‘What is it you want?’ she asked, struggling to push the hair out of her eyes.
‘I’m just curious.’ She waited for him to go on. ‘You didn’t take your original complaint against Paul Carter very far. But then later on you did. What changed your mind?’
‘I couldn’t let him get away with it.’
‘That line sounds rehearsed.’
‘So what? I’ve said it often enough. You think somebody paid me – is that it?’
His eyes narrowed a little. ‘Hadn’t crossed my mind,’ he said quietly.
She turned away from him, wrapping her arms around herself, cigarette tightly held between thumb and forefinger.
‘Nobody needed to pay me,’ she said. ‘I did it because it had to be done.’
‘But did you talk to anybody? Is that what you’re getting at?’ He took a step closer, remembering what she’d said back in the cafe – poor man… ‘Paul’s uncle? Alan Carter?’
She was staring up at the sky. The wind had caught her hair again, wrapping it around her face, so that it seemed to be muffling her.
‘Alan Carter?’ Kaye persisted.
She pushed up on to her toes and flung out her arms again. For a second he thought she was going to launch herself into the void. He went as far as stretching out a hand towards her. She had her eyes squeezed shut, a child readying to fly.
‘Teresa?’ Kaye said. ‘All that stuff about Paul Carter – was it true?’
‘He deserved what he got,’ she recited. ‘He’s a disgrace to the service.’
Not her words – but Kaye could imagine a fellow officer saying them; or a retired one.
‘Can’t let him get away with it – wouldn’t just be me… there’d be others.’ Her eyes were still closed. ‘Deserved what he got.’ Kaye’s fingers had closed around her thin forearm.
‘Let’s get you back to the lift,’ he said.
‘Can’t I stay here for a bit?’
‘Not on your own, no.’ She opened her eyes and looked at him. ‘I need you to be safe, Teresa.’
‘They all say things like that,’ she told him. ‘They all want to look after you.’ Kaye wondered if it was just the breeze forcing a tear from her eye. ‘But they all change,’ she said quietly, allowing him to lead her away from the dream of escape.
Joe Naysmith took one look at the desk sergeant and thought better of it. Ever since the Murder Squad had arrived, the man had looked ready to explode. His station, his fiefdom – not any more. Detectives and uniforms swarmed through reception, toting equipment or with questions and demands. They needed chairs, desks and electrical adaptors for their incident room. They hardly acknowledged him or gave him the time of day.
No, Naysmith doubted he’d get anything from Sergeant Robinson. But that didn’t matter: he had another plan. The CID rooms were chaotic, but he found Cheryl Forrester in a corner, watching the activity with excited eyes. She saw him and he gestured towards the corridor. By the time she reached him, he was loading coins into the drinks machine.
‘Buy you a can of something?’ he offered.
‘Sprite,’ she said, squeezing closer to him as two detectives jogged past.
‘How are you bearing up?’ he asked, handing her the chilled drink.
‘Great,’ she said. ‘Do you need me for more questions?’
‘Sort of.’ He realised they were going to get no peace in the corridor, so led her towards the stairwell. She asked him if he didn’t want anything to drink for himself.
‘I ran out of change,’ he admitted. She smiled and offered him her opened can. He took a sip and handed it back.
‘All very mysterious,’ she said, studying her surroundings.
‘I’m after a favour,’ he conceded. ‘You won’t remember a detective called Gavin Willis?’
‘I’ve heard the name.’
‘Died a long time back,’ Naysmith told her. ‘But presumably you knew Superintendent Hendryson?’
‘Of course.’ She took a slurp from the rim of the can.
‘I was wondering if there was any way of contacting him.’
‘Does he never look in?’
She shook her head. ‘Bit of a hike from Portugal.’
‘He moved to Portugal?’
‘I think it was his wife’s idea. He sends us a postcard now and then – always makes sure to mention how warm the sea is.’
‘Someone must have an address, then, eh?’
Forrester stared at him. ‘What’s this all about?’
‘No idea,’ he dissembled. ‘I’m just running an errand for my boss.’
‘I know that feeling.’ She paused and tilted her head a little to the side. ‘You doing anything this evening?’
‘Just thought you could buy me a drink – dinner too, if you like. I might have something for you by then.’
Naysmith thought for a moment. ‘I’m not sure, Cheryl.’
‘Because you’re the Complaints?’
‘But I’m not under investigation, am I?’
‘You’ll still figure in the final report.’
‘It’s an ethical thing.’
‘We’ll be eating dinner, that’s all. And I’ll be giving you the address your boss needs.’
Naysmith pretended to be weighing up the options. ‘Okay then,’ he told her.
‘If you’re not too busy.’ She was teasing him now.
‘Somewhere local?’ he guessed.
She shook her head again. ‘Smashing wee place in North Queensferry.’
‘It’s where I live.’
‘Is it now?’
When she broke into a smile, he couldn’t help smiling back.
‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Yeah, why the hell not?’
Professor John Martin – JDM to friends and colleagues – lived in a chic new-build apartment block behind Edinburgh Zoo. Although the evening temperature had dropped, he was happy to allow Fox a few moments on the balcony.
‘Can you hear them?’ he asked.
Fox nodded. Animals: snuffles and bellows and squawks.
‘You can smell them sometimes, too,’ the professor said. ‘Anyone round here with a garden is prone to pester the zoo for manure. Amongst other things, it has certain rebarbative qualities.’
‘Scares domestic cats – stops them crapping in your flower beds.’
The third-floor flat didn’t quite have a view into the zoo itself, but Fox could see the outline of the Pentland Hills to the south, and hear the traffic on Corstorphine Road. Professor Martin had moved indoors again, so Fox followed suit, sliding the door shut. Classical music was playing, but just barely audible: it sounded modern and minimalist. The open-plan room boasted a wall of packed bookshelves and a cream leather suite. An archway led to a small kitchen of shining chrome and mahogany panelling.
‘Nice place,’ Fox commented. ‘Been here long?’
‘Couple of years.’ Martin had poured them both drinks – red wine for him, sparkling water for Fox. ‘We downsized when our offspring flew the nest.’ Martin swilled the wine around his glass and tested it with his nose. ‘I admit I’m intrigued – tell me how you found me.’
Fox gave a shrug which he hoped looked modest. ‘I spent the weekend surfing online: Scottish militancy in the 1980s. Your name kept coming up. When I saw you’d written a book on the subject…’
‘Been out of print for years,’ Martin stressed. ‘It was my doctoral thesis.’
Fox reckoned that would be about right. Martin could only be in his mid-forties – tall, toned and handsome. Fox had spotted a tennis racquet in the hall, and a photo of Martin with some trophy he’d won. The book had been published in 1992…
‘Written in the late eighties?’ Fox speculated.
‘Finished in 1990,’ Martin confirmed. ‘But you’ve still not explained how you found me.’
‘Your online biography said you taught at Edinburgh University.’ Fox gave another shrug. ‘But before calling them, I thought I’d try the telephone directory.’
Martin chuckled. ‘Easy when you know how.’ He raised his glass in a toast. ‘But I need to confess, I’ve probably forgotten a lot of that book. My specialism has shifted in the years since.’
‘Scottish politics,’ Fox reeled off, ‘constitutional procedure, parliament and protocol…’
Martin offered up another toast.
‘Probably a wise move on your part,’ Fox concluded. ‘Not so many paramilitaries about these days.’
Martin smiled. ‘The lesson of Northern Ireland – bring your terrorists into the fold. They end up wearing suits and running the country.’
‘Does that hold for Scotland?’
Martin considered this. ‘I’m not absolutely sure. The SNP polished up its act, got itself a leader with charisma to fit the rhetoric. Devolution provided a rostrum. No need for grievance.’
‘Plenty of grievances in the eighties.’
‘And in the seventies,’ Martin added. ‘With roots stretching back much further.’ He paused. ‘I’m sure I can find you a spare copy of the magnum opus.’
‘I’ve already ordered one,’ Fox confessed.
‘Ah, the internet again?’
‘I think it’s a review copy.’
‘That gives it a certain rarity value – my publishers didn’t do much in the way of promotion.’ Professor Martin paused. ‘Is it to do with the bombs?’
‘Peebles and Lockerbie? Surely no one thinks the SNLA and its ilk are back?’
‘One of my colleagues asked much the same thing. But I doubt anyone’s looking in that direction. It’s certainly not the reason I’m here. I want to ask you about Francis Vernal.’
Martin took a sip of wine and was thoughtful. ‘A man I wish I’d met,’ he eventually commented. ‘His speeches read well, but to hear him was something else – a few recordings exist, you know. And some film footage, too.’
Fox gave a nod.
‘Has something come to light? Some new evidence?’
‘It’s more in the way of a personal interest.’
‘Not official, then?’
‘Semi-official, let’s say.’
Martin nodded and seemed lost in thought again. ‘I had the devil of a job, you know,’ he said at last. ‘One morning, I got the feeling someone had been in my flat and had taken a look at a few chapters. Then, when the thesis was placed in the university library, someone stole it. It was hardly there a week…’ He shook his head. ‘I was almost starting to believe the conspiracy theories.’
‘Up until then you’d dismissed them?’
‘Francis Vernal was a heavy drinker in a bad marriage. Nobody could be surprised at how things turned out.’
‘Did you interview his widow for your book?’
‘She wouldn’t see me.’
‘How did you do your research?’
‘In what sense, Inspector?’
The music had finished playing. Martin lifted a tiny white remote-control unit from the coffee table and the same sequence of tunes started again.
‘You tried talking to Mrs Vernal – that makes it sound “hands on”. So I’m wondering if you managed to talk to any of the actual groups.’
‘A few fellow travellers and sympathisers. I wrote to all of them.’
‘Almost none got back to me, so I tried again – same thing happened.’ He paused. ‘What has this got to do with Francis Vernal?’
‘Wasn’t he rumoured to be a banker of sorts for some of the groups?’
‘I’m trying to build up a picture of him.’ It was Fox’s turn to pause. ‘Do you think he took his own life?’
‘Either that, or his wife had him killed.’
‘Why would she do that?’
‘Maybe to protect all her lovers – or because her husband was involved with someone.’
‘She says the papers made up all those stories about her being unfaithful.’
Martin’s eyebrows lifted a little. ‘You’ve spoken to her?’ He sounded intrigued and impressed. Another toast was made, this time with an empty glass. He went into the kitchen for a refill. Fox waited for him to return.
‘Did you turn up anything at all linking Vernal to these terrorist groups?’ he asked.
‘He would doubtless have called them “freedom fighters” – either that or “the resistance”.’ Martin went back to swirling his wine. ‘Anecdotal stuff only,’ he eventually admitted. ‘People would mention his name. There were minutes of meetings – usually in code, but easy enough to read. I think they often referred to him as “Rumpole”.’
‘From the TV show?’
‘A fellow lawyer, you see.’
Fox nodded his understanding. ‘So he attended meetings?’
‘Maybe even led those meetings?’
‘He was never mentioned as a leader. You’ve heard of Donald MacIver?’
Fox nodded: another name gleaned from the internet. ‘He’s in Carstairs these days.’ Carstairs: the maximum-security psychiatric facility.
‘Which is why I failed to get an interview. MacIver led the Dark Harvest Commando. He almost certainly knew Francis Vernal…’ Martin paused. ‘Are you suggesting Vernal was killed by one of the groups he supported?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Or by some shadowy establishment conspiracy?’
Fox shrugged. ‘He reckoned his home and office had been broken into – and his widow confirms it. Maybe he was being watched. And now you’ve just told me you think people spied on your work, too.’
‘It went further, actually: my first publisher went bust; a second decided all of a sudden he didn’t want the book. Had to go to a small left-wing press in the end. Pretty slapdash job they made of it too.’
‘You’re really whetting my appetite,’ Fox joked.
‘I just hope you didn’t pay over the odds for your copy.’
‘Worth every penny, I’m sure.’
‘No guarantees, Inspector.’ Martin leaned back in his chair, arms resting over either wing.
‘Any other names?’ Fox asked.
‘One or two are probably still a bit cracked – living as hermits in the Western Isles and writing anarchist blogs. Most of them probably found that as they got older, they became the sort of person they’d previously despised.’
‘The establishment, in other words?’
‘These were bright people, in the main.’
‘Even the ones scooping up handfuls of anthrax from Gruinard?’
‘Even them,’ Professor Martin said, sounding sleepy from all the wine. ‘It’s all changed now, though, hasn’t it? Nationalism has entered the mainstream. If you ask me, they’ll sweep the next election. A few years from now, we could be living in an independent European democracy. No Queen, no Westminster, no nuclear deterrent. That would have been impossible to predict a scant few years back, never mind quarter of a century.’
‘Pretty much what the SNLA and all the others were fighting for,’ Fox concurred.
‘Is there anyone I could try talking to about all of this, other than psychiatric patients and hermits?’
‘Do you know John Elliot?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘He’s on TV all the time. News and current affairs.’
‘Never heard of him.’
‘He merits a mention in my book.’
‘What about Alice Watts?’
Fox repeated the name, but it was clear Professor Martin had never heard of her. Fox showed him the two matriculation photos anyway. Martin blinked a couple of times, as if trying to focus. ‘Oh yes,’ he said, suddenly animated. ‘It’s good to have a name for her at last.’ He got to his feet quite slowly, but managed to make it to the bookshelves without too much of a detour. Fox went with him, and watched as he plucked out a copy of his own book – No Mere Parcel of Rogues: How Dissent Turned Violent in Post-War Scotland.
‘Catchy title, incidentally,’ Fox commented.
‘A misquote from Burns.’ Martin had opened the book two thirds of the way through, at a section comprising black-and-white photographs. He pointed to one of these. It filled half a page, and looked to Fox like a CND demo.
‘Coulport,’ Martin confirmed. ‘It was the handling and maintenance depot for Polaris warheads. Every week, a nuclear convoy would set out from there on its way by road to the Royal Ordnance factory near Reading.’
‘That’s a fair few hundred miles.’
‘I know – and by road! An accident… a hijacking… It boggles the mind, the risks they took.’
Ten demonstrators had been arrested that particular day: Sunday, 7 April 1985, three weeks before Vernal’s death. Martin’s finger slid to the photo covering the bottom half of the page.
‘Do you see your man?’ he asked.
‘I see him,’ Fox said quietly. This second photo was of a protest outside a police station, inside which, presumably, were the ten ‘martyrs’. One man, older than his neighbours, was at the centre of the shot – Francis Vernal. Next to him, in dungarees and a knitted hat, stood Alice Watts. ‘Who’s that she’s linking arms with?’ Fox asked. He meant not Vernal, but the man to Alice’s left. Tall, with long black hair, a bushy black beard and sunglasses.
‘I wish I knew. What did you say the young lady’s name was?’
‘Alice Watts,’ Fox repeated.
‘Watts…’ Martin broke into a huge smile. ‘Bravo, Inspector – twenty years too late, but bravo anyway.’
‘Another of the code names,’ Martin explained. ‘“Steam”.’ He was still smiling.
‘Steam as in James Watt,’ Fox guessed.
‘And from James Watt to Alice Watts.’
Fox nodded his agreement that it was entirely feasible. ‘Do you still have the notes from the meetings?’ he asked.
‘I only have my notes of their notes – I was shown them; I wasn’t allowed to take them away.’
‘Shown them by a sympathiser?’
‘Quite the opposite, actually. One of the problems with all these splinter groups was that they couldn’t stop splintering. And when factions fell out, it got as messy as any divorce. I was shown records of the meetings so I could see how amateurish the group had become.’
Fox held up a finger to interrupt the professor’s flow. ‘Which particular group are we talking about?’ he asked.
‘Dark Harvest Commando?’
Martin nodded. ‘They were extreme even by extremist standards – the paramilitary wing of the Scottish Citizen Army. You’ve already mentioned the anthrax…’
‘And Alice Watts was a member?’ Fox studied the photograph again.
‘I’d say so, yes.’ Martin paused. ‘Is that important, Inspector?’
‘What if I told you she was also Francis Vernal’s lover? And that she disappeared almost immediately after his death?’
The professor was silent for a moment. He closed the book and pressed it to his chest. ‘I’d say,’ he said softly, ‘that a new edition of my book might be in prospect.’
‘It gets better,’ Fox added. ‘Because as far as I can work out, Alice Watts was never alive in the first place…’
That night, Fox watched TV with the sound muted, and ignored one call from his sister and two from Evelyn Mills. He was wondering what it would be like to live next to a zoo, hearing and smelling the animals without ever seeing them.
And what it would be like to be a student, choosing to live in a small place like Anstruther.
Or work in television news and current affairs.
Or be incarcerated in Carstairs.
Or be suspected of murder.
When the credits rolled, he realised a film had been playing. He couldn’t remember the first thing about it.
Jude had sent him a text: Go see Dad. It’s YOUR turn!
She was right, of course. And it isn’t as if you’ve got anything better to do, Foxy, he told himself.
No Mere Parcel of Rogues… A misquote from Burns, according to Professor Martin. Fox hadn’t studied Burns since his school-days. He reached for his laptop, fount of all knowledge – some of it even dependable. He would look up the line in question. And then maybe he’d also check a couple of names – Donald MacIver; John Elliot.
Bed straight after, he promised himself.
Maybe with the window open an inch or two, allowing in the noises and scents of the night…
Fox woke up early and went to see his father. There was a bench in the garden of Lauder Lodge, and Mitch fancied sitting there, so Fox got him wrapped up, and one of the staff provided a travel rug for his legs. But Mitch drew the line at a hat and scarf.
‘Any more swaddling and I’ll be fit for a pharaoh’s tomb.’
The garden’s high walls gave protection from the North Sea’s gusts. The gardener looked like he’d be checking in as a guest some time soon. He nodded a greeting, then carried on with his work.
‘I was never one for gardening,’ Mitch told his son.
‘Mum had the green fingers,’ Fox agreed.
‘If I’d had my way, I’d have turned the whole lot into a patio.’
‘Remember that time I was hanging from the clothes-rope? It snapped and I bounced off the nearest flagstone.’
‘Your mum phoned me from the hospital. Three stitches, was it?’
Fox rubbed at the crown of his head. ‘Five,’ he corrected his father.
Mitch smiled. ‘Know what your mum said when she called? She told me she’d have a job getting the blood out.’
Fox remembered: a striped bath towel wrapped around his head to staunch the wound. He hadn’t seen it again afterwards.
Mitch watched as his son tried stifling a yawn. ‘Late night?’
‘Business or pleasure?’
‘Take a guess.’
‘Work’s all well and good, Malcolm, but there’s got to be more to life. Still, it explains why I haven’t seen you in a few days.’
‘Jude’s been visiting, though?’
‘Saturday and Sunday – your absence was noted.’
‘I was busy.’
‘Not just avoiding us, then?’
‘No.’ Fox shifted on the bench. ‘We always seem to end up fighting, though.’
‘You and your sister?’ Mitch nodded slowly. ‘I think she’s annoyed that the money for this place is coming out of your pocket.’
‘I don’t begrudge it.’
‘They’ve hiked the fees again, though, haven’t they?’
‘It’s not an issue.’
‘Maybe Jude thinks it is.’
Fox offered nothing more than a shrug.
‘How’s Fife?’ Mitch asked after a lull.
‘I was in St Andrews.’
‘Went to a caravan there once – when your mum and me were winching. Had to make sure her dad never found out.’ Mitch looked at his son. ‘What’s so funny?’
‘I just don’t hear people say “winching” these days.’
‘What do they say?’
‘Dating, I suppose.’ Fox paused. ‘Did we ever go to St Andrews? As a family, I mean.’
‘Maybe for a day… Do you think you remember it?’
Fox shook his head. ‘I just seem to have forgotten quite a lot.’
‘Join the bloody club – I remember that the caravan was pale green, but I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner last night.’ Mitch watched his son try to swallow back another yawn.
‘I’ve got pills in the bathroom – you should sneak a few out with you.’
‘I might do that,’ Fox said, only half-joking.
‘Jude was looking through the shoebox again. I don’t know if it’s for my benefit or hers.’
‘Plenty memories in there. No photos of the caravan, though.’ He paused. ‘We had some good holidays. Could be that’s what Jude’s looking for – times when you and her were a team.’
‘We’re still a team: she visits; I pay the bills.’
‘There are other places I could go, you know – places cheaper than this must be. It’s no wonder you can’t afford a new shirt or tie.’
Fox peered down towards his chest. ‘What’s wrong with my shirt and tie?’
‘You were wearing them last time you were here.’
‘Was I? I don’t remember.’
His father gave a sudden smile and slapped him on the knee. ‘No, me neither – I’m just winding you up.’
‘Thanks for that.’
‘You’re more than welcome.’
They were still smiling when the tea tray arrived.
‘By the way,’ Mitch said, ‘I’m sorry about the other day – teasing you in front of Sandy.’
‘Is that what it was: teasing?’
‘I could see you were hurt. But we both know you’re good at your job.’
‘That’s not what you were saying, though. You were wondering whether I’m cut out for life outside the Complaints. I’ve been asking myself the same thing.’
‘Well, I’m sorry I said it anyway.’
‘Don’t worry about it – gives me a bit of ammo next time Jude tells me I’m your favourite.’
‘You are, though – you know that.’
Fox looked at his father. ‘Do you say the same to Jude when I’m not around?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Thought as much.’
When Mitch Fox started to laugh, his son couldn’t help but join in.
The three men – Fox, Kaye and Naysmith – convened at their office at HQ. While Naysmith made coffee for all of them, stifling yawns of his own and needing a shave, Kaye told Fox about his meeting with Teresa Collins.
‘Thing is,’ he concluded, ‘if Alan Carter did get her to testify against his nephew, we’re stuck with the nephew as prime suspect in the murder.’
‘And it is murder now,’ Naysmith confirmed. ‘Fiscal’s office gave the Murder Squad the nod.’
‘When did you hear that?’ Kaye asked.
Naysmith hesitated. ‘Last night,’ he eventually admitted.
‘Who’s your source, Joe?’ Kaye gave a wolfish smile. ‘Certain young lady in CID? Keep you out late, did she?’
Naysmith kept his back to his colleagues as he finished making the drinks.
‘Billie and Bekkah only knew Alan Carter through Billie’s boyfriend, right?’ Fox asked Kaye.
‘Tosh Garioch,’ Kaye confirmed. ‘Do I talk to him next?’
‘Can’t do any harm.’
‘Any reason to suppose he’d grass up his boss?’
Fox offered a shrug and took the proffered mug from Naysmith. Accepting his own drink, Kaye made a little kissing sound. Naysmith scowled, but refused to meet his eyes.
‘Joe,’ Fox said, ‘got anything on Gavin Willis for me?’
‘Not exactly.’ Naysmith eased himself on to his desk, letting his legs hang over the side and placing his coffee next to him. ‘Best I could do is a number for Superintendent Hendryson. He lives in Portugal. There’s an address, too…’ He brandished a page torn from a notebook.
‘And all it cost him was his virtue,’ Tony Kaye offered.
‘By the way,’ Naysmith added, ignoring Kaye, ‘Mark Haldane’s back from sick leave – effective as from this morning.’
‘That means the two of you can have a proper word with him,’ Fox said. He had risen from his chair and taken the phone number from Naysmith. ‘Portugal, eh?’ he commented as he looked at it.
‘Portugal,’ Joe Naysmith confirmed.
‘And you got this from Cheryl Forrester?’
‘Careful there, Joe.’
‘No fraternising with the enemy,’ Kaye added teasingly.
‘She’s not the enemy.’ Naysmith couldn’t help sounding defensive.
‘Maybe not now,’ Fox cautioned. ‘But all the same…’
Bob McEwan arrived just as Kaye and Naysmith were leaving. ‘Off to Fife?’ he guessed.
Kaye gestured in Fox’s direction. ‘How soon till we get our pal back?’
‘Not my decision. How near are you to being able to make a comprehensive report?’
‘Nobody’s admitting anything,’ Kaye told him.
McEwan’s focus moved to Naysmith. ‘Is that true, Joe?’
‘You don’t sound too sure.’
‘Nobody’s admitting anything,’ Naysmith echoed. ‘And the tap hasn’t-’ He stopped abruptly, winded by Kaye’s elbow finding his kidneys.
‘What tap?’ McEwan asked quietly.
‘We’re about to lift it, Bob,’ Fox explained, walking towards his boss.
‘I didn’t authorise any surveillance.’
‘It was a Fife call,’ Fox stated.
‘I should still have been told.’
‘Sorry about that.’
McEwan stabbed a finger towards Fox. ‘I don’t like this, Malcolm.’
McEwan stared at him hard, then turned his attention back to Kaye and Naysmith. ‘Off you go, then.’
Kaye didn’t need telling twice, steering Naysmith out of the door ahead of him.
‘What’s going on, Malcolm?’ McEwan asked.
‘Who’s under surveillance?’
‘Scholes,’ Fox admitted. ‘But with Paul Carter a murder suspect, we’re pulling it.’
‘This is a simple enough procedure: three interviews, three reports.’
‘These things have a way of growing, Bob – you know that yourself.’
There was a finger pointing at Fox again. ‘A simple enough procedure,’ McEwan repeated, laying equal stress on each word. ‘If that has somehow changed, I need to know the why and the what – understood?’
Fox knew he had only to bide his time. The two men settled at their desks and worked in silence. When Fox got up to make more coffee, McEwan refused his offer, which told Fox that he was still in the bad books. Forty-five minutes later, McEwan checked his watch and sighed, making to rise from his chair.
Another planning meeting.
‘Got enough to keep you busy?’ McEwan asked.
‘Always,’ Fox replied.
McEwan found the paperwork, but then had to come back because he’d left his phone charging beside one of the sockets. When he’d left for a second time, Fox got up and went to the doorway, checking that the corridor was empty. He closed the door and returned to his desk, picking up the phone and placing a call to Portugal. When a woman answered, he told her he wanted to speak to Mr Hendryson.
‘Is that you, Andrew?’
‘My name’s Fox – I’m phoning from Edinburgh.’
‘Just a minute, then,’ she trilled. He could hear her placing the phone on a solid surface and then calling out for her husband.
‘Rab! You’ve a call from the old country!’
It was a few moments before anything happened. Fox was trying to visualise the scene: a view of a mirror-flat blue bay, perhaps. Wooden decking with recliner chairs. The retired superintendent in flip-flops and baggy shorts. Maybe there was a golf course nearby, and an ex-pat golfing buddy called Andrew whose voice sounded a bit like Fox’s…
‘Robert Hendryson,’ a voice said as the phone was picked up again.
‘Mr Hendryson, my name’s Malcolm Fox – I’m an Inspector at Lothian and Borders Police.’
‘I know who you are.’
‘Pitkethly told me.’
‘Did she now?’
‘She used to call me a lot when she first took over. Finding her feet, but not always able to locate the key to a cupboard or some requisition form.’
‘And she’s still in touch?’
‘She wanted to let me know about Alan Carter.’
‘You knew him, then?’
‘A little. He was CID and I wasn’t – you’ll know yourself there’s a tribalism there. Plus Alan was retired before I took over at Kirkcaldy.’
‘So what did Superintendent Pitkethly tell you?’
‘Just that the Complaints were in town, led by someone called Fox. All that business about Paul Carter…’
‘You’d have known him better than his uncle,’ Fox stated.
‘Paul could be a handful, Inspector. But he got results – and I never heard a bad word about him until I was nearly retired.’
‘But when the allegation was made, did you ever doubt his innocence?’
‘Innocent until proven guilty,’ Hendryson recited. Then: ‘Is that what this is about?’ He considered for a moment, and answered his own question. ‘Of course it is. You want to know if CID really did cover up for Paul. Maybe you think it went beyond CID – the whole station, eh?’
‘Not at all, sir.’
‘I don’t need to speak to you, you know.’ The voice was growing irritated. ‘I can put the phone down right now.’
Fox waited for Hendryson to draw breath. When he did, Fox uttered a name and waited again.
‘What?’ Hendryson said, bemused by the switch.
‘Gavin Willis,’ Fox repeated. ‘I was wondering what you could tell me about him. Nothing to be afraid of – he’s been dead for years.’
‘Why do you want to know?’
‘Simple curiosity. Alan Carter is dead, and the two of them seem to have been very close.’
‘What has any of that got to do with the Complaints?’
‘It’s a fair question, sir. Paul Carter’s looking a likely candidate for his uncle’s murder. I happen to be in a minority – I don’t think he did it. So I’m trying to build up a picture of Alan Carter’s life, hoping it might help me understand why he died.’
Hendryson spent some time mulling this over. ‘Yes,’ he said at last, ‘I can see that. The thing is, I barely knew the man, and never as a serving officer.’
‘There were get-togethers sometimes – reunions, I suppose you’d say, though it might just be a few drinks one night after work.’
‘What was he like?’
‘A big, no-nonsense guy – the sort of cop we used to treasure. Knew everyone in the town, and if something happened he’d have a pretty good instinct who was to blame. Graffiti on a wall or a stone through a window… more likely than not, justice would be dispensed on the spot.’
Fox thought of a phrase Alan Carter had used: the backlands, where things tend to get fixed on the quiet… ‘A slap around the ear?’ he guessed.
‘As and when needed – and no bleeding-heart liberals to cry foul. We’d be better off if that was still the case.’
‘Is that why you emigrated?’
‘Wife wanted a bit of sun on her face,’ Hendryson explained. ‘But you have to admit, policing’s got a lot harder.’
‘We’re more accountable,’ Fox countered.
‘Being the Complaints, you’d think that a good thing, of course.’
Fox didn’t want to get into an argument, so instead he asked how close Willis had been to Alan Carter.
‘Like teacher and star pupil. From the minute Alan joined CID, Gavin was there to see him right.’
‘Did they work together on the Francis Vernal case?’
Hendryson took a moment to place the name. ‘The lawyer? Smashed his car and topped himself?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘What case are we talking about?’
‘I just meant the crash site… collecting evidence and what have you.’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘Did you know anything about the deceased’s car?’
‘What is there to know?’
‘Willis seems to have salvaged it from the scrapyard. It’s been sitting in his garage all these years.’
‘News to me, Inspector.’
‘Now that I’ve told you, what do you think?’
‘I’m retired – I don’t think anything.’
‘Bit of luck, wasn’t it, sir? You leaving the force just as all this was about to break.’
‘All what? Paul Carter, you mean?’
‘For starters. Alan Carter came to you, and you decided to take it to your own Complaints people…’
‘No thought of brushing it under the carpet?’
‘Alan wouldn’t hear of it. He wanted an inquiry.’
‘Or he’d talk to the newspapers.’
‘Even so, the local Complaints didn’t get very far, did they?’
‘Not until that woman changed her mind.’
‘Why do you think she decided to speak up?’
‘I’ve no idea.’
‘Alan Carter can’t have been too happy when the original investigation drew a blank.’
There was silence on the line, interrupted only by a crackle of static.
‘Is there anything else?’ Hendryson’s voice eventually responded.
‘When did Gavin Willis die?’
‘Nineteen eighty-six. Towards the end of January. Keeled over in the street one day. Heart attack.’
‘And Alan Carter snapped up the cottage?’
‘What if he did?’ Hendryson waited, but Fox had no answer worth giving. ‘Are we done here?’
‘Just you go and enjoy the sunshine while you still can,’ Fox told the man, ending the conversation.
He had parked his Volvo on the street outside the police station. Sergeant Alec Robinson looked to left and right as he crossed the car park, and craned his neck to make sure there were no witnesses at the windows. He got into the passenger seat without ceremony.
‘Drive,’ he ordered.
Fox did as he was told. When they’d left the police station behind, Robinson relaxed a little. He was wearing a force-issue outerwear jacket over his uniform – not quite mufti, but as close as he could get.
‘Thanks for this,’ Fox acknowledged. Robinson shrugged off the show of gratitude.
‘I’m not going to shit on my own kind,’ he warned.
‘I’m not asking you to. I’m just trying to find out a bit more about Gavin Willis. In police terms, Sergeant, you’re as close to Methuselah as I’m going to get.’
Robinson looked at him. ‘Not exactly buttering me up, are you?’
‘Would you appreciate it if I did?’ Fox watched as Robinson shook his head. ‘What rank did you have, back in the mid-eighties?’
Robinson thought for a second. ‘Constable,’ he answered.
‘So you wouldn’t have had many dealings with CID?’
‘Probably didn’t know Willis and Alan Carter too well?’
‘There were times we worked together – door-to-door enquiries; scouring the area for a missing person…’
‘And nights in the pub, eh?’
‘Not just nights – not back then.’
Fox nodded his agreement. ‘Lunchtime sessions? They were being phased out by the time I signed on the line.’
Robinson was looking at him. ‘How long have you been in the Complaints?’
‘A few years.’
‘You like it?’
‘Maybe I want to make sure the force is on the side of the angels.’
‘That’s the answer you always give?’
Fox smiled. ‘I change the wording a bit.’
‘But is it the whole truth?’
‘I’m not sure.’ Fox paused, checking to left and right as they stopped at a junction. ‘I’m also not convinced Paul Carter killed his uncle.’
‘Then who did?’
‘That’s what I’d like to know. Got any ideas yourself?’
‘How does Gavin Willis fit into it?’
‘Willis and Alan were pals as well as colleagues. Alan obviously doted on the man – to the extent of buying his house when he died.’ Fox glanced at Robinson. ‘We found Francis Vernal’s car tucked away in a garage next to the cottage.’
‘Have you any notion why Willis would have hung on to it, let everyone think it had been scrapped?’
Robinson shook his head.
‘Or why Alan Carter would have left it there?’
Another shake of the head.
‘It’s a mystery, then,’ Fox seemed to concede. ‘But here’s something else – the gun used to kill Alan Carter was part of a police haul that should have been destroyed back in the eighties, when Gavin Willis was on the detail.’
‘Oh, aye?’ Robinson repeated.
‘You knew both men – and you know Alan’s nephew. There’s something I’m not seeing here, and I was hoping you could help.’
‘Gavin Willis was a tough customer,’ Robinson admitted.
‘That much I sense.’
‘A rule-breaker too, from time to time.’
‘But back then that was the norm, more or less.’
‘I suppose it was. People were scared of Gavin Willis – but only if they deserved to be. If you kept your nose clean, there was no reason for him to be interested in you.’
‘He was Alan Carter’s mentor – you think some of that rubbed off?’
‘Alan was a different generation. He wasn’t just some sort of replica.’
‘But there were similarities?’ Fox thought for a moment. ‘So maybe he made enemies?’
‘In the force and out of it.’
‘You mean his security firm?’
‘There was a bit of trouble with the Shafiqs last year.’
‘Scholes seems keen on reminding everyone about that. I also know Alan Carter hired people for their brawn rather than their brain.’
‘If a fight breaks out in a club, college degrees aren’t the first thing you reach for. Alan Carter knew that. He joined the force straight from school, same as me. We learned on the job, Inspector, not from textbooks.’
‘Did Willis ever get into any trouble? Disciplinary hearings, that sort of thing?’
Robinson shook his head
‘What about Alan Carter?’
‘Nothing. Paul, on the other hand…’
‘A loose cannon from a family of cops – therefore protected.’
‘Ray Scholes kept him in the right – out of respect for his dad and uncle.’ Robinson had shifted a little in his seat, the better to face Malcolm Fox. ‘You really think Paul didn’t do it?’
‘I’m fighting the tide on that one.’
‘And your theory is that it all somehow ties to Gavin Willis?’
‘Maybe – if Gavin Willis saved that revolver from the furnace.’
‘And Francis Vernal…?’
‘I don’t know what happened there – either lazy policing or pressure from upstairs. But the case should have been investigated and wasn’t.’
‘I doubt Gavin Willis would have reacted well if someone had told him to drop it.’
‘Maybe that’s why he hung on to the car – evidence on its way to being destroyed.’
‘But then he didn’t do anything with it.’
‘And neither did Alan Carter – but Alan kept it there under the tarpaulin anyway.’
‘Nineteen eighty-five, Inspector – long time back. You really think you’re going to make progress now?’
‘Would anyone care if I didn’t?’
Robinson shook his head again. ‘But they might if you did.’ He peered through the windscreen. ‘You can drop me here, I’ll walk the rest.’
‘Better that than the pair of us being seen together.’
Fox signalled and drew to a stop by the side of the road. Robinson undid his seat belt and got out. Fox thought he might have some parting words – a helpful sentence or two – but he just closed the door and marched away, zipping up his jacket. Fox drummed his fingers against the steering wheel.
You’re nowhere, he told himself. When his phone rang, he answered it with a half-hearted ‘Yes?’
‘Sounds like you’ve already heard,’ Evelyn Mills said.
‘My boss has ordered us to pull the surveillance. I tried fighting your corner, but with Paul Carter looking like a murder suspect…’
‘Surveillance could jeopardise any trial,’ Fox said, finishing the argument for her.
‘To be honest, my own boss would have pulled it anyway.’
‘You eventually owned up?’
‘Someone let it slip.’
‘Pissing him off in the process. Well, we gave it our best shot.’
‘And I’m grateful.’
‘Then you can buy me dinner some time.’ She waited, but Fox stayed silent. ‘To be honest, Malcolm, the tap was getting us nowhere anyway.’
‘Just that one call?’
‘A second one this morning – arranging a drink together tonight.’
‘Carter and Scholes?’
‘And the other two.’
‘Haldane and Michaelson?’
‘Whose idea was that?’
‘Paul Carter’s. I think he wants reassurance that he still has a few pals. Sounded to me like the pressure’s getting to him.’
‘What did Scholes say?’
‘He sounded pretty reluctant, but Carter kept on at him.’ She paused. ‘Is it important?’
‘First time the four of them will have been together since the trial.’
‘That we know of.’
‘That we know of,’ he agreed.
‘You wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall?’
‘Are you saying you’d steer clear?’
She gave a little laugh. ‘Would it really matter what I said?’
‘Where are they meeting?’
‘The Wheatsheaf, at eight o’clock. Mind you don’t bump into anyone from the Murder Squad.’
‘I tried calling you last night, Malcolm…’
‘I must’ve been asleep.’
‘Not giving me the brush-off, then?’
‘Are you sure about that?’
He assured her he was, then ended the call, punched in Tony Kaye’s number and waited. When Kaye picked up, Fox asked him if he was in the middle of something.
‘Wee chat with Tosh Garioch.’
‘Is he giving you anything?’
‘I doubt he’d give me the smell from his farts – no, tell a lie: in that one respect he’s being more than generous.’
‘Paul Carter’s taking his mates out for a drink tonight.’
‘All of them?’
‘All of them.’
‘How do you know?’
‘It’s the last thing we’ll glean from the phone tap.’
‘You reckon we should be there?’
‘Pub’s called the Wheatsheaf – why don’t you check it out, see if there’s any chance of us blending in.’
‘They know all our faces.’
‘There’s always the dressing-up box.’
‘Hat and scarf and a pair of glasses?’ Kaye sounded doubtful.
‘Joe’s always been in the background – you and me have done all the talking.’
‘One guy standing at the bar… who’s to know?’
‘Joe might have plans for tonight.’
‘Nothing he can’t cancel.’
Kaye seemed to be thinking it through. ‘Can’t do any harm to give the place the once-over. Soon as I’ve finished with Garioch.’
‘Listen, one last thing…’
‘Your pal Evelyn Mills.’
‘What about her?’
‘She phoned me. I got the feeling she was after some gen on you – relationship status and such.’
‘Thanks for letting me know.’
‘I’m not trying to put you off or anything – quite the opposite.’
‘She’s married, Tony.’
‘Not always a bad thing, Malcolm.’
‘I’m putting the phone down now.’ He could hear Kaye chuckling as he ended the call.
Fox started driving again, not really sure where he was headed. Not for the first five minutes anyway, after which he realised he was on the Kinghorn road. He passed the filling station where Paul Carter had been spotted on the night of the murder. Signalling right, the Volvo climbed the gradient, coming to a stop at the door to the cottage. The field was empty; no vans or patrol cars. With the incident room set up in Kirkcaldy, the team had finished with Gallowhill Cottage, but not before boarding up the window of the living room to deter gawpers. Fox got out and checked, but the door was padlocked and there was no key beneath the flowerpot on the windowsill. He walked to the garage – judging by the outline under the tarpaulin, Francis Vernal’s car was still there. He was starting down the slope again when he heard another vehicle approaching. Paul Carter parked his silver Astra directly behind the Volvo, blocking Fox in.
‘What are you doing here?’ Carter asked, slamming shut his driver’s-side door.
‘Just came for a look,’ was all Fox could come up with.
Carter said nothing to this. He took some keys from his pocket, selected one and undid the padlock, kicking open the door.
‘This all yours now?’ Fox asked.
‘Until they do me for his murder,’ Paul Carter muttered. ‘Nobody’s found a will yet, and I’m next of kin.’ He walked inside, and Fox followed.
‘So what happens to your uncle’s company?’
‘Goes to the wall, I’m guessing – he’s the only one that can sign cheques.’ Carter was looking around the hallway. ‘Hell am I supposed to do with all this?’
‘There are companies who clear houses,’ Fox offered.
‘Bonfire might be a better bet. I could be back inside any day.’
‘Sheriff Cardonald’s still deliberating?’
‘Bastard’s taking his time.’
‘Are you surprised he let you out?’
‘Been better for me if he hadn’t.’ Carter walked into the living room. ‘Place has been given a good going-over,’ he commented.
‘They took my prints,’ Fox admitted.
Fox was studying Carter’s face. If he had killed his uncle, would it show as he stood here? Would images from the night flash before him? He looked flustered and fearful, but without remorse or obvious guilt. Fox noticed that the table had been cleared – every scrap of paper had been bagged and removed by the inquiry team. No one, however, had washed the fine spray of blood from the window. Carter opened a drawer – it, too, had been emptied of paperwork; all those neatly kept household bills and bank statements. Carter slid it shut again and stood in the middle of the room, running a hand through his hair, scratching at his scalp.
‘When was the last time you were here?’ Fox asked.
‘Night he died – after Ray phoned me. He wanted to be the one to break the news.’
‘And before that?’
‘Months… maybe a year.’
‘He said you came here drunk one day, spouting off about stuff.’
‘I was in court, remember?’ Carter muttered. ‘I heard it from his own lips.’
‘But he wasn’t lying?’
‘I was off my tits; no idea what I said or didn’t say.’
‘But would that have been the last time you were here?’
‘When he made the accusation, you didn’t come back here to ask him why?’
‘What good was that going to do me?’
‘So why do you think he phoned you the evening he died?’
‘He hadn’t spoken to you since the trial?’
Carter shook his head. He walked over to the wall next to the fireplace and ran a hand down the uneven wallpaper. ‘Did all this himself, you know. Top to bottom. My dad used to say he was cack-handed.’ He found a join in the paper and slid a finger underneath, tearing it. ‘Cack-handed’s just about right.’
Without uttering another word, he left the room and started climbing the stairs. After a few moments, Fox followed. There were three rooms in the eaves – two bedrooms and a bathroom.
‘Look at this,’ Carter said. He was showing how wallpaper, badly fitted to the ceiling in the main bedroom, was falling off. Then he knocked against a skirting board with the heel of his shoe, showing that nails were missing. The door didn’t close properly, and the knob was loose.
‘Cack-handed,’ he repeated.
Fox saw cracks in the plasterwork, badly fitted windows, loose floorboards. Some of the cupboards were open, showing that Alan Carter’s wife had not bothered taking all her clothes with her when she left him. Had he kept them in the hope that she might come back? And then, after her death, to keep her memory alive? In the bathroom, tiles were missing from the shower, and the bath looked antiquated. Both of the handbasin’s taps dripped. Fox tried not to linger on the dead man’s toiletries: his wet-razor, denture cream, nail scissors.
‘What would you do with the place?’ Carter asked.
‘Same thing your uncle presumably did when he got hold of it – rip it up and start again.’
‘When he first bought it, my dad dragged me along a few times. Dad found it hilarious, the way Uncle Alan thought he was tarting the place up, when he was actually making it worse…’ Carter seemed caught for a moment in the memory, but shook it away. ‘Maybe I should torch the place and collect on any insurance.’
‘Are you sure you should be telling me that?’
Carter managed a smile. He looked washed-out – the interviews had taken their toll; maybe the whispers and stares around town had too.
‘Thing is, I liked him when I was a kid – and I thought he liked me.’
‘I forget, what was his wife called?’
‘Aunt Jessica – you always had to get it right. If you tried “Jess” or “Jessie”, she’d be quick to correct you. Turned out she’d been seeing someone behind Uncle Alan’s back, and that was the end of that.’
‘Did you really make your parents’ lives a misery?’
‘Plenty of nippers do.’
‘But after you’d stopped being a nipper?’
Carter shrugged and moved from the bathroom to the small spare bedroom. This was used for storage, boxes and suitcases piled high.
‘Bonfire,’ he muttered again, before turning towards Fox. ‘I wasn’t so different from anyone else. If he told you I was some sort of monster, he was lying.’
‘He grassed you up,’ Fox stated quietly.
‘Then maybe he’s the monster – you ever considered that?’
‘I have, actually.’
Paul Carter had not expected this. He studied Fox, eyes unblinking. Fox noted a slight nervous tremor just below one eye. Carter, conscious of it, pressed a finger to the flesh, as if this would cure it.
‘Know what they do to cops in jail?’ he asked quietly, before answering his own question. ‘Course you do – you put cops away all the time.’
‘Just the ones that deserve it.’
‘You think I deserve it?’ Carter’s voice was rising. ‘For asking one sad wee slut for half an hour of her oh-so-precious time?’
‘Why did the other two women come forward?’
Carter banged the heel of one hand against the wall. The whole building seemed to shudder. ‘I don’t know!’ he cried out. ‘She must have told them to!’
‘She didn’t know them.’
‘I never did anything to those two – never even tried!’ This time he took a swipe at the wall with his foot, cracking the plaster.
‘Remember, this is your place now,’ Fox cautioned.
‘I don’t want it!’ Carter ran his hand across his head again. ‘I’m sick of all this. I want my life back. Any minute now, that judge could make his mind up, or Cash could charge me with murder. Some choices, eh?’ He looked at Fox. ‘But what’s the point of telling you? You don’t give a damn.’
He shouldered Fox aside and descended the stairs two steps at a time. Fox waited a moment before following. By the time he reached the hallway, Carter had started the Astra’s engine and was making an awkward three-point turn. From the doorway, Fox watched the car head down the hill. The padlock hung loose. It wouldn’t lock without the key. Paul Carter hadn’t been bothered about that – the cottage was just another weight dragging him down. Fox closed the door as best he could, got into his own car and started the long journey home to Edinburgh.
The day’s post, waiting for him inside his front door, included the copy of No Mere Parcel of Rogues. It was scuffed, and the section of photos had come loose, but it was still serviceable. Fox skimmed it for an hour or so. Professor Martin was sparing with names. Fox jotted a few down anyway. Then, just before the index, he saw a note stating that the names were fictitious – ‘changed to protect the subjects’.
‘Thanks a bunch,’ Fox said.
He went back to the paperwork Charles Mangold had given him. There were trial reports from the early eighties, and this time the names would be real. There were photographs, too – taken at police stations after the suspects had been arrested. A few bruised faces, cuts on lips and noses, swollen eyes.
Donald MacIver merited a few mentions, along with John Elliot. Wikipedia had a whole page on the broadcaster. When Fox saw his photograph, he realised that he had seen him present the Scottish news a few times. His Wikipedia entry stated that he had been involved in ‘fringe politics’ as a student, and had faced trial for plotting the hijacking of a government minister’s car. Fox compared photos – yes, the newscaster and the radical student were one and the same. The hair had been longer back then, the clothes scruffier and the skin sallower. Fox wouldn’t have called the twenty-year-old Elliot handsome, but promotional shots of him these days showed a chiselled chin, gleaming eyes, and a healthy glow, the hair immaculate, the teeth pearly and the shirt crisp. Elliot employed a management company, and could be hired for ‘corporate and charity functions’. Fox noted the phone number, got up to stretch his spine, and went to make some tea.
When six o’clock came, he turned on the TV, but it was someone else presenting the day’s headlines. He went back to his desk for an hour, phoned his sister to tell her he’d visited Lauder Lodge, got into the usual argument with her, then ate a tin of tuna mashed with mayonnaise and mustard.
At half past eight, his phone rang. It was Tony Kaye.
‘Tell me,’ Fox said.
‘They clocked him,’ Kaye growled, meaning Joe Naysmith had not been able to blend in at the Wheatsheaf.
Fox exhaled slowly and noisily. ‘Did he get anything?’
‘Place wasn’t exactly mobbed, but they were at a table and he had to stick by the bar – a good eight or ten feet away.’
‘So what happened?’
‘He says it was Haldane. Kept staring, then said something to the others. Scholes comes storming over and tells Joe to sod off. After that, there’s silence in the bar – everybody knows who Joe is, and Joe knows he’s going to get hee-haw…’
‘It was a long shot,’ Fox conceded.
‘I blame Joe, though.’
‘Can I assume he’s listening in?’
‘We’re in the Mondeo, fifty yards downhill from the pub.’
‘Any point tailing them?’
‘Not if we can’t hear anything they’re saying,’ Tony Kaye suggested.
‘Okay, then. Might as well get yourselves home – and thank Joe for trying.’
‘Foxy says thanks for nothing,’ Fox heard Kaye tell the hapless Naysmith.
‘You’re a cruel man, Tony Kaye.’
‘Cruel but fair, I think you’ll find.’
Fox wished his colleague good night.
John Elliot was filming a piece for later in the day. The up side was, Fox didn’t need to drive into the centre of Glasgow. The downside: he was on a trading estate on the outskirts. For some reason, a modern black slab of a hotel had been placed there, and Elliot’s crew had taken over the restaurant. Bemused guests were eating breakfast in the bar area while lights were repositioned, cameras slotted into place on their tripods.
‘It’s guerrilla stuff,’ the segment’s director told Fox. Fox had been provided with a little cafetiere and a couple of miniature pains au chocolat. Elliot was being attended by a make-up woman in a corner of the restaurant. There was a large illuminated mirror, and something resembling a toolbox, but filled with cosmetic products rather than wrenches.
‘Mad business,’ Elliot commented to Fox, meeting his eyes in the mirror. His hair was being combed into place, his nose and forehead checked for sheen, a paper towel protecting his shirt collar from smudges. His eyes glittered, and Fox wondered if drops had been applied. He was dressed in an open-necked shirt, black cotton jacket, and faded denims, frayed at the bottom.
‘I appreciate you seeing me at short notice.’
‘When I’m done here, we’ll have about fifteen minutes. After that, I have to be back in the studio.’
The director had arrived at Elliot’s side. He was holding a script and looking stressed.
‘Chef says the lobster’s claws are taped shut, so there’s no danger,’ he was explaining.
‘The glamour of television,’ Elliot said, meeting Fox’s eyes again and sand-blasting him with a smile.
There was a rehearsal, after which it took three takes to get the piece right. Then there were cutaways and changes of angle and lighting and other stuff Fox didn’t quite understand. An hour and a half after starting, they had their three minutes of screen time. Elliot was rubbing a wet-wipe across his face as he crossed the room towards Fox. The gear was being packed away, tables and chairs returned to their original positions. One guest, a middle-aged woman, intercepted Elliot and asked him to sign her copy of the breakfast menu.
‘A pleasure,’ he said. A small tremor seemed to pass through her as she watched him write.
‘Get a lot of that?’ Fox asked when he was eventually able to shake the presenter’s hand.
‘Better a fan than the abuse I’d get on Sauchiehall Street after closing time. Let’s sit here.’ Elliot nodded towards a banquette in the open-plan bar. ‘So,’ he said, slapping his palms against his knees, ‘my nefarious past catches up with me…’
‘It’s no secret, is it?’
‘My whole life is public property, Inspector.’
A waiter came over to ask if they needed anything. Elliot ordered mint tea, then changed his mind to sparkling water. Fox was nursing half a cup of lukewarm coffee.
‘Are you still interested in politics?’ he asked when the waiter had retreated.
‘The question is: was I ever?’
‘You nearly went to prison…’
Elliot nodded slowly. ‘But even so. How much of it was posture? I mean, students back then… we didn’t always think too clearly about the reasoning.’
‘What was it, then – a way to pick up the opposite sex?’
Elliot gave a lopsided smile. ‘Maybe.’ He wriggled in his seat, making himself more comfortable. ‘That court case… it was ridiculous really. We were made to look like the mujahideen, but we were just kids playing games.’ His eyes widened slightly, perhaps hoping Fox would share his incredulity. ‘Hijack a government car? Hold the minister to ransom?’ He shook his head. ‘The ransom, incidentally, consisting of a referendum on Scottish self-government – how hare-brained is that?’
‘You doubt it would have worked?’
‘Of course it wouldn’t have worked! People were laughing at us during the trial – they’d sit in the public gallery and their shoulders would be heaving as we explained the tactics. The prosecution went on about “planning”, but as we pointed out, this amounted to a couple of nights in the pub and a few doodles on the back of a napkin.’
‘Might explain why none of you went to jail.’
‘Our university didn’t even bother kicking us out – that’s how seriously everyone took it.’
‘Might be different today,’ Fox commented.
‘Stirling was your university?’ Elliot nodded, then thanked the waiter as his water arrived. There was a bill with it, but the presenter pointed the waiter in the direction of one of the crew.
‘Ever see any of your old gang?’ Fox asked.
‘None of them still active?’
‘Active? You mean plotting the overthrow of the state? No, none of them are still “active”.’ He sipped the water, stifling a belch. ‘We were young and foolish, Inspector.’
‘Is that what you really think?’
‘You’ve got me pegged as some sort of sleeper agent?’
Fox returned Elliot’s smile. ‘Not at all. But you’re a public figure – it’s good PR to play down a militant past, maybe make light of it, turn it into an after-dinner routine…’
‘That’s probably true.’
‘And they were very different times.’
‘Plus, as far as I can tell, the Dark Harvest Commando had a seriousness of purpose. If you’d just been along for a laugh, I doubt they’d have tolerated you.’
Elliot’s face darkened a little. ‘The DHC was too much for me,’ he confided.
‘You went to a few of their meetings, though?’
‘So you knew Donald MacIver?’
‘Poor Donald. They got him eventually, even managed to have him certified after he attacked another prisoner. He’s in Carstairs now.’
‘Ever thought of visiting him?’
‘No.’ Elliot seemed surprised by the question.
‘He must have been close to Francis Vernal, though…’
‘I can’t believe anyone’s finally paying attention to that,’ Elliot said.
‘In what way?’
‘We all knew Francis had been assassinated – MI5 had him on their hit list. When he died, nobody seemed bothered – no police investigation, almost nothing in the papers…’ He took another sip of water. ‘But it did the job all right.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘A lot of the groups got the message and disbanded. They didn’t want to end up like Francis.’
‘How well did you know him?’
‘You never met him at meetings?’
‘I was in the same room as him a few times, but I was a foot soldier. He was at the top table.’
‘He was the money man, wasn’t he?’
‘Another reason the groups fell apart – when Francis went, the cash went with him. It wasn’t as though anyone used bank accounts. We didn’t have a chequebook with Dark Harvest Commando on it.’
‘I suppose not.’
Elliot remembered something. ‘There was one meeting where things got a bit heated. Hawkeye needed money for something. Francis went outside and came back in with a wedge of fivers and tenners.’
‘Where was this?’
‘A pub in Glasgow – we used the back room sometimes. Spit and sawdust and patriot songs…’
‘The money must have been in Vernal’s car, then?’
‘I suppose so.’
The car saved from the scrapyard by Gavin Willis. Had he taken it back to his garage to strip it? If so, how had he known about the money? And if there was money to be found, what did he do with it?
And why hang on to the car…?
‘Who’s Hawkeye?’ Fox thought to ask.
Elliot offered a shrug. ‘Never knew his real name. He wasn’t normally the type to attend meetings – everyone was a bit scared of Hawkeye.’
‘He definitely wasn’t just playing at radicalism. Two or three armed robberies, I’m pretty sure he was responsible. The members liked to talk about Hawkeye when he wasn’t there – he was our Robin Hood. Liked his explosives, too.’
‘The bombs sent to Downing Street and Parliament?’
‘More than likely.’
‘Why the name Hawkeye?’
‘No idea.’ Elliot had finished his water. The equipment had been packed away, the crew heading for their vans. ‘I need to go,’ he apologised. ‘You really think you can get to the truth after all this time?’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘Reckon anyone out there really wants to hear it, Inspector?’
Fox didn’t bother answering this. He reached into his pocket instead and produced Professor Martin’s book. ‘Ever seen this?’ he asked.
‘I’ve heard of it,’ Elliot stated, taking it from Fox and flipping through its pages.
‘You’ve never wanted to read it?’
‘Archaeology doesn’t interest me.’
Fox took the book back from him, found the photo of Vernal and Alice Watts outside the police station and held it open for Elliot to see.
‘Do you remember her?’ he asked.
‘You don’t recognise her from the meetings?’
Elliot shook his head. ‘Is it important?’
‘She seems to have had some sort of relationship with Mr Vernal – I’d like to talk to her about it.’
‘I wish I could help.’
‘Her name back then was Alice Watts…’
Elliot tried to place it but failed. ‘Back then?’ he prompted.
Fox didn’t say anything, but when he went to close the book, Elliot took it from, him, still open at the photograph. ‘Seventh of April 1985…’
‘Were you there that day?’
‘In a manner of speaking: I was one of the ones they arrested. But we were out again by late evening.’
‘But you don’t recall seeing Alice Watts?’
Elliot shook his head again. ‘Nice to see Hawkeye again, though.’ He turned the book towards Fox. ‘That’s him there, arm in arm with the young lady.’ Fox took the book back and studied the photo again. The man Professor Martin hadn’t known, the one with long hair, beard and sunglasses.
‘Fairly sure.’ One of the production runners was standing in front of them, hugging her clipboard to her chest and tapping at an imaginary watch on her wrist.
‘I really have to go,’ Elliot apologised to Fox.
‘Can you give me anything else on Hawkeye?’
‘A first name? His accent?’ Fox was trying not to sound desperate.
‘Scottish,’ was all Elliot said, rising to his feet. And there was that smile again, the one that told the world John Elliot had moved on, that he lived for the present and not the past.
‘Can we talk again?’ Fox proposed.
‘I really don’t have anything more to say.’
‘I might have more questions.’
Elliot stretched out his arms, underlining that he’d told Fox as much as he could.
‘You’re the first terrorist I’ve ever met,’ Fox told him.
‘I hope I’ve lived up to expectations.’ Elliot’s voice had hardened.
‘We’re out hunting bombers right now – wonder if they’ll be hosting TV shows in a few years.’
‘You’ll excuse me.’ He turned away and started to follow the assistant. Fox was only a step or two behind him.
‘Did your side win?’ he asked.
Elliot paused and seemed to give the question some consideration. The assistant started to say something, but he silenced her with a gesture.
‘We’re closer than ever to an independent Scotland,’ he told Fox. ‘Maybe that process started when the government in London had to acknowledge our existence.’
‘Sounds to me like you’ve still got a few political bones left in your body, Mr Elliot.’
‘I’m not allowed to take sides, Inspector.’
‘Bad for the public image?’
The assistant was actually tugging at Elliot’s arm. With a slight bow of the head in Fox’s direction, he allowed himself to be led away to the waiting van.
Fox’s phone rang. He was staring at the photograph as he answered.
‘Paul Carter’s dead,’ Tony Kaye’s voice informed him.
‘Happened some time last night. They pulled him from the harbour early this morning.’
‘Body’s gone for autopsy.’
‘Christ on a bike, Tony…’
‘Do we know anything else?’
Fox was remembering his last meeting with Carter. Remembering, too, that Joe Naysmith had seen him even more recently.
‘The Wheatsheaf,’ Fox commented.
‘Suppose I better let someone know we were there.’
‘When I saw him at the cottage, he seemed pretty wrung out.’
‘Suicidal, though? I wouldn’t have said he was the type.’
‘You know, Malcolm, just for once I’d like a nice clear-cut death.’
‘Are you in Kirkcaldy?’
‘Station’s a bit subdued.’
‘Does the incident room know?’
‘What about Scholes?’
‘Haven’t seen any of that lot yet.’
‘You better talk to DI Cash. Let him know about last night.’
‘Will the autopsy be at the hospital?’
‘Far as I know.’
‘Then I’ll see you there.’
‘Cash might not like it.’
‘Mood I’m in, that’ll suit me fine.’
‘Just so long as I can have a seat ringside,’ Tony Kaye said.
‘Bring a pair of white gloves and I’ll make you referee.’ Fox ended the call and headed out to his car.
‘Always in the basement,’ Joe Naysmith commented as they walked along the windowless corridor. All three were rubbing antibacterial foam into their hands. ‘Path labs, autopsy suites…’
‘You want them in the car park?’ Tony Kaye shot back. ‘So everyone can see the cadavers?’
‘Time was,’ Fox stated, ‘the public liked a post-mortem exam.’
‘That’s because the public, as we all know, are sick and twisted.’ Kaye pushed open another set of doors and almost wished he hadn’t.
‘Well, well,’ DI Cash drawled. ‘The gang’s all here. Come to check out your handiwork?’ He turned towards DS Brendan Young. ‘Nothing the rubber heels like better than hounding a man to his death.’
‘While all you were doing was accusing him of murder,’ Fox countered. ‘How long did the questioning go on – nine, ten hours at a stretch?’
Cash stabbed a finger towards Fox. ‘I seem to remember sending you to the wilderness.’
‘And I was quite happy there, but we’ve got a bit of news we need to share.’
Cash slid his hands into his pockets and went up on his toes. ‘This’ll be good,’ he told Young.
‘First we need to hear what the autopsy says.’
‘Join the queue,’ Young muttered, checking the time on his phone.
On cue, the door marked ‘Examination Suite’ swung open. The pathologist was suited and booted and looked impatient.
‘How many of you want to watch? We only have three sets of scrubs.’
Naysmith looked relieved to hear it. Kaye stared dolefully at Fox, knowing rank was about to be pulled on him. Five minutes later, Fox, Cash and Young were inside, listening to the hum of the extractor fan and the pathologist chivvying his assistant.
‘We’re a man down, but it can’t be helped,’ he told Cash. Fox knew that Scots law required corroboration – meaning two pathologists should have been present. ‘We can always put him in the fridge until tomorrow…?’
But Cash shook his head. ‘Let’s get on with it.’
Paul Carter was laid out on the metal table. Water was still seeping from him, being diverted to the table’s drainage channels and from there into pails beneath. Fox could see that Carter’s face was swollen. There was a brackish smell in the small, already claustrophobic room. Maybe he’d misjudged this: Fox hadn’t been present at many autopsies; he was hoping he wouldn’t keel over. Nor was Brendan Young looking too comfortable. The pathologist spoke into a microphone as the examination got under way. He pushed down on the chest, expelling a gurgling stream of water from the corpse’s mouth. Fox’s own mouth was dry, his heart pounding in his ears. The body had probably been in the water eight to ten hours, putting time of death at somewhere between eleven p.m. and one a.m. Core temperature was tested, and the eyeballs checked. Once the Y-incision had been made and the ribcage prised open, the pathologist was able to examine the contents of the lungs.
‘No doubt in my mind that he drowned,’ he said. ‘Whether he fell in or jumped…’ He made a gesture that could have been a shrug.
As the examination continued, organs removed and weighed, Brendan Young shuffled back until he was resting against the wall, eyes all but closed. Fox stood his ground, though he was concentrating with his ears rather than his eyes.
‘Nose is broken,’ the pathologist said, almost to himself, as he peered closely at the face.
‘Maybe the body took a pounding against the sea wall,’ Cash offered.
‘Not much wind last night… doubtful there was enough of a swell to cause an injury like that.’ The pathologist moved to Carter’s hands and arms. ‘Tissue on the knuckles is scraped… Same goes for the tips of the fingers.’
‘He was in a fight?’ Fox speculated.
‘Or fell to the ground. Put his hands down instinctively and grazed them.’ Eventually, the stomach was opened.
‘Smell that?’ the pathologist asked, turning his attention to his audience.
‘Booze,’ Cash said.
‘Lager, I think. And spirits of some kind.’ The man bent down over the body and sniffed. ‘Whisky.’
‘So he’s drunk and he goes walking down by the harbour.’
‘It’s one scenario. Another would be a tussle of some kind.’
‘But he was alive when he went in the water?’ Fox asked.
‘Almost definitely,’ the pathologist stated.
Quarter of an hour later, they had taken off the protective clothing, splashed water on their hands and faces and were back in the corridor, leaving the pathologist and his assistant to finish up.
‘Spit it out,’ Cash told Fox. An unfortunate choice of words, since DS Young had just spent several minutes bent over the sink, attempting to hack some residual taste from the back of his throat. He looked pale and was still perspiring. When Naysmith offered him a stick of gum, he snatched at it.
‘Carter had a meeting in a local bar last night,’ Fox said. ‘But before I tell you who with, I want a promise that me and my team won’t be kept out in the cold.’
‘No promises,’ Cash said.
Fox took his time considering this. He even turned his head to make eye contact with Kaye.
‘I need to know what you know first,’ Cash went on, his tone softening a little.
‘The meeting was with Scholes, Haldane and Michaelson,’ Fox conceded.
Cash slid his hands into his pockets again. The habit was beginning to annoy Fox. It was as if the detective inspector had learned most of his moves from old gangster films.
‘How do you know that?’ he asked.
‘We sent Naysmith in to eavesdrop.’
‘And how did you know about the meeting in the first place?’
‘Does it matter? The thing is, the four of them were out together last night. You’re going to want to talk to them, and I want to hear what they’ve got to say.’
Cash was looking at Naysmith. ‘What sort of time?’
‘It was just before eight when they sat down with their drinks,’ Naysmith obliged.
‘And when did they leave?’
Naysmith looked towards Tony Kaye for help.
‘They clocked him,’ Kaye told Cash. ‘By ten past the hour, we were on our way.’
Cash didn’t say anything for a few moments, happy to bask in the Complaints’ inefficiency.
‘So your undercover surveillance lasted a maximum of fifteen minutes?’ He turned his attention to Fox and offered a gloating smile.
‘All right, you’ve had your fun,’ Fox said coldly. ‘The thing is, they’ll know what sort of state Paul Carter was in, and what time the session broke up.’
‘That they will,’ Cash acknowledged with a nod.
‘So we need to talk to them.’
Cash stared at him. ‘No promises, remember?’
Fox had had enough. He got right into Cash’s face. ‘One thing you’re forgetting – my report goes straight to your Chief Constable. That report’s already going to make pretty interesting reading. The whole reason we’re here is so your boss can show everyone how spick and span everything is. Last thing he wants is the media getting wind that obstacles were put in our way. Names will be named, Detective Inspector Cash.’ Fox paused. ‘I never did catch your first name. Better spell it out for me, just to be on the safe side.’
Cash made Fox wait – which was fine by Fox. He knew the man would climb down eventually. Eventually he held his hands up in a show of surrender.
‘Cooperation has always been my byword,’ he said with a humourless half-smile. ‘We’re all on the same side after all, aren’t we?’
Fox maintained eye contact, their faces only inches apart.
‘Duly noted,’ he told the CID man.
There was further news waiting for them at the station – news that changed everything. Cash mulled it over and decided he wanted all three of Paul Carter’s colleagues in the same room at the same time. The interview room was too cramped, so he cleared the CID office. DS Young had been sent to fetch Scholes, Haldane and Michaelson.
‘We’ve got recording equipment,’ Fox told Cash. The DI nodded his agreement and Joe Naysmith started setting everything up: video as well as audio. The three others – Cash, Fox and Kaye – started moving desks, making a decent-sized space. Eight chairs were needed: five facing three. Phones rang but went unanswered. Cash wiped sweat from his forehead with a voluminous white handkerchief.
‘You three,’ he explained to Fox, ‘are here to listen.’
‘Until advised otherwise,’ Fox agreed.
The door opened and four figures trooped in. Haldane and Michaelson looked dazed, Scholes wary. DS Young pointed towards the three chairs.
‘What is this?’ Scholes asked.
‘Got a few questions for you,’ Cash stated.
Scholes took in the three Complaints officers and nodded his understanding. ‘Next time you try a stunt like that,’ he said, eyes on Fox but gesturing towards Naysmith, ‘use someone old enough not to be asked for proof of age by the landlord.’
The colour rose to Joe Naysmith’s cheeks as he checked the gear. Scholes had turned to his colleagues.
‘It’s because we were out with him last night,’ he told them. Then he sat down. There was silence in the room, until Naysmith said, ‘Okay.’ Cash took a deep breath and folded his arms.
‘It’s pretty grim, all of this,’ he said. ‘Sorry you’ve lost a friend…’
Scholes grunted a response.
‘As you say, you were out with him last night…’
‘Few jars at the Wheatsheaf,’ Michaelson stated.
‘What time was that?’
‘We left the back of nine, maybe half past.’
Cash kept his attention on Scholes, whether or not he was the one to answer. ‘What were the four of you talking about?’
‘This and that.’
‘His uncle’s death?’
‘For a bit.’
‘You all left the Wheatsheaf together?’
There wasn’t an immediate answer. Haldane glanced in Scholes’s direction.
‘Yes, DS Haldane?’ Cash prompted him.
‘We’d had a few words,’ Scholes admitted, pre-empting his colleague. ‘Bit unsettling to find you’re being tailed.’ He gave Naysmith a hard stare. ‘Paul was on his high horse about it.’
‘And after a few drinks, he did have a bit of a temper.’
‘It wasn’t that,’ Haldane blurted out. ‘It was just such a bloody headache listening to him drone on.’
‘Droning on, was he?’
‘The Complaints, the court case hanging over him, then his uncle and the finger of blame.’
‘Poor bastard was cracking up,’ Scholes commented.
‘So you had words in the pub?’ Cash asked.
Scholes nodded. ‘We left him to it.’
‘He was still there?’
‘We had work the next day.’
Cash nodded slowly. ‘I gave the manager a bell. He reckons it was close to eleven when DC Carter staggered out of there. Manager guesses he’d had about six pints and three nips by then.’ He paused, unfolding his arms and pressing his hands together. ‘So how do you think he ended up in the water?’
‘Does it matter?’ Scholes glared at Cash. ‘Makes your job that bit easier, doesn’t it, now he’s not here to fight his corner. Pin his uncle’s murder on him; case closed. No trial necessary… all nice and tidy.’
‘Ah, but that’s just what it isn’t.’ Cash waited for his words to sink in.
‘How do you mean?’ Michaelson eventually asked.
‘We had a phone call earlier. Member of the public happened to be out walking his dog last night. He saw a man down on the beach. He was being chased by another man. First guy wasn’t screaming or shouting or anything. Just running as best he could.’ Cash broke off, waiting for a reaction.
‘What makes you think it was Paul?’ Scholes eventually asked.
Cash shrugged. ‘Just that the witness saw him run into the sea. His only chance of getting away. Onlooker took them for a couple of drunks having a laugh.’ He looked down at his lap. ‘We’re not long back from the autopsy. DC Carter somehow ended up with a broken nose and grazes on his hands…’
‘Wait a minute,’ Haldane said, voice unsteady. He had gripped the arms of his chair and was starting to rise to his feet.
‘Sit down,’ Cash said.
Scholes placed a hand on Haldane’s shoulder, and Haldane lowered himself back on to the chair.
‘What’s this got to do with us?’ Scholes asked.
‘You tell me.’
‘I will, then – the answer is: nothing. We left Paul in the pub, went back to our cars and drove home.’
‘You weren’t over the limit?’
‘Of course not. We’re the law, aren’t we?’
‘And you went your separate ways – meaning none of you can vouch for the others, unless you have psychic powers.’
Michaelson snorted and shook his head. ‘This is fucking unbelievable,’ he announced, pointing a finger at Fox. ‘That lot’ll stop at nothing to see us flushed down the pan.’
‘Your wife will vouch that you were home before ten?’ Cash asked.
‘How about you, DS Haldane?’
‘I went round to my mum’s. Left her place just after eleven.’
‘Night owl, is she?’
‘She nodded off for a bit; the news does that to her…’
Cash nodded. ‘Which brings us to you, DI Scholes.’
‘I really can’t believe I’m hearing this.’ Scholes looked calm enough, but he only just had his emotions under control. When he spoke, it was as if his voice was trying to rid itself of a straitjacket. ‘Paul was our mate. Now you’re saying one of us smacked him? You’re saying he was so scared of us, he ran into the sea?’ Scholes actually laughed, arching his head back.
‘I’m waiting,’ Cash said, sounding as if he had all the time in the world.
Scholes stopped laughing. ‘You might as well lock me in the cells,’ he stated. ‘All I did was drive to Milnathort to see my girlfriend. She was out, so I came back to town. Didn’t see or speak to anyone.’ He stared at Cash. ‘So I must’ve done it, mustn’t I?’
‘Only if you can’t think of anybody else. DC Carter couldn’t have been the most popular character in Kirkcaldy.’
Scholes seemed to give this some thought. ‘You’re right,’ he conceded. ‘And here I am in a room with the people who probably hated him the most.’ He pressed his hands together in imitation of Cash and leaned in towards him. ‘Going to charge me, or what?’
‘Don’t give them the satisfaction, Ray,’ Michaelson said.
‘This interview is over.’ Cash got to his feet, checked the time and announced it out loud for the benefit of the recording. Scholes remained seated, eyes on Malcolm Fox.
‘I’m sorry about Paul,’ Fox told him.
‘Fat lot of good that does anybody,’ Scholes replied.
‘What about a line-up?’ Tony Kaye asked Cash, once Scholes, Michaelson and Haldane had departed. ‘Maybe the witness got a good look.’
‘That’s not the message we received,’ DS Young countered. ‘Just two figures. He only marked them out as male because of their size and the way they moved.’
‘So we’re only guessing that Paul Carter was the one being chased?’ Fox added.
Cash gave him a look. ‘Muddying the water seems to be your particular party trick, Fox.’
‘I call it “keeping an open mind”.’
Cash turned back to Brendan Young. ‘Let’s bring the witness in anyway. Need to get a proper statement from him.’
‘If Carter ran into the water and drowned,’ Joe Naysmith speculated, ‘what’s the charge?’
‘Might not be one,’ Cash acknowledged. ‘On the other hand, if he got himself in a fight, realised he couldn’t win and legged it…’
‘And the assailant,’ Young continued, ‘gave chase, putting the fear of God into him…’
‘Then that assailant’s guilty of something,’ Kaye determined.
‘That’ll be for us to decide,’ Cash cautioned. ‘Meaning CID – not the Complaints.’ He turned his attention back to Fox. ‘So you and your merry band of fuck-ups can bugger off back across the Forth.’
‘Can’t do that,’ Fox responded. ‘Not until your Chief Constable tells us that’s what he wants us to do.’
‘You’re not even supposed to be here!’ Cash jabbed a finger into Fox’s unyielding chest.
‘We handed you those three on a plate.’
‘Am I supposed to kiss your feet for that?’
‘A simple “thank you” would suffice.’
‘Six,’ Young broke in. ‘You handed us six on a plate.’
‘That’s right,’ Cash said with a nod. ‘I forgot you three were there last night.’
‘Just Naysmith and me,’ Kaye corrected him.
‘That true?’ Cash asked Fox.
‘I was at home in Edinburgh.’
‘Anyone with you?’
Cash turned his attention towards Kaye and Naysmith. ‘Then we’ll start with the two of you.’ He walked over to the video camera. ‘How does this work, son?’
Naysmith looked to Fox for instruction.
‘You’ve made your point, Cash,’ Fox stated.
‘The hell I have: this has got to be done by the book. Don’t tell me the Complaints wouldn’t agree. There’s a local copper lying on a slab, and here I am with two witnesses who saw him the night he died.’ Cash gestured towards DS Young. ‘Know how to operate this thing, Brendan?’
‘Can’t be that hard,’ Young suggested.
Cash turned back towards Fox. ‘You still here? I might have to make a complaint, Inspector.’
Fox looked ready to stand his ground, but Kaye gave a jerk of the head towards the door.
‘I’ll be outside,’ Fox said to nobody in particular.
‘Best place for you,’ Brendan Young muttered in reply.
Fox sat in his car for a while, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel and staring out of the windscreen without really seeing anything. He tried the radio but couldn’t find a station he liked. There were no messages on his phone. Eventually he got out and paced the car park. He thought of Paul Carter, lying in the chill gloom of the mortuary, his last moments filled with fear and flight. Then he pictured Alan Carter, seated at his desk in Gallowhill Cottage – quite relaxed, unafraid of whoever stood behind him.
Unafraid or unaware.
Francis Vernal had driven off the road, or been shunted off it. Shot while he was driving, maybe? It would have taken a marksman – but marksmen could be found.
Fox’s last memory of Paul Carter alive: running from the cottage to his car. I’m sick of all this… I want my life back…
‘Me too, pal,’ Fox muttered, lifting his phone to check the incoming message.
Start the engine – we’re blowing this joint!
He had just reached the station’s rear door as it swung open. Kaye led the way, Joe Naysmith behind him.
‘Well?’ Fox asked.
‘He pissed us about as long as he felt able to,’ Kaye reported. ‘Not sure he quite bought Joe’s story, but then neither did I.’
‘I drove to North Queensferry,’ Naysmith explained to Fox.
‘To see his squeeze,’ Kaye added.
‘Did Cash ask for her name?’ Fox watched Naysmith shake his head. ‘That’s just as well. We can’t go giving him any more ammo. Any second now, the bosses are going to decide we’re more trouble than we’re worth.’
‘Home sweet home,’ Kaye answered, rubbing his hands together. ‘I can’t wait.’
‘We were given a job,’ Fox reminded him.
Kaye rolled his eyes. ‘From which you quickly absconded, dusting off the history books instead.’
‘I was kicked into touch, remember?’
‘Thing is, Malcolm, you’re so happy there, I’d swear you’d fallen on a team of pompom girls.’
Naysmith smiled at the image. After a moment, so did Fox. Eventually Kaye joined in too.
‘What if I show you?’ Fox suggested.
‘Joe’s been there; it’s right and proper you should see it too.’
Naysmith nodded his understanding. ‘How many cars?’ he asked Fox.
‘Just the one should do it. And mine seems to be closest.’
Indeed it was: he’d parked it in Superintendent Pitkethly’s bay again.
The door was still unlocked; didn’t look as if anyone had been there since Fox’s last visit.
‘So who gets it?’ Kaye asked, as practical as ever. He was examining the cottage like a prospective buyer.
‘Paul Carter seems to be the only family,’ Fox answered, pushing open the door.
‘I’d have the Land Rover,’ Joe Naysmith added. ‘Rather that than the house.’
‘Can you imagine being shown round?’ Kaye was following Fox into the living room. ‘The selling agent trying to avoid the obvious…’
‘Should we even be in here?’ Naysmith asked. ‘It’s still a crime scene, isn’t it?’
‘One that’s been picked clean,’ Fox reassured him. He was studying Tony Kaye. For all his faults, Kaye had a true cop’s instinct. Fox wasn’t expecting revelations: he was hoping Kaye might reinforce a few theories he himself had.
‘Alan Carter was seated here,’ he explained, touching the back of the solid wooden chair. Paperwork in front of him – everything he’d discovered about Francis Vernal’s death.’
‘Everything? You sure about that, Malcolm?’
‘Everything we know about.’
‘He let his killer in?’
‘According to Carter’s best friend, the door was usually kept locked.’
‘No signs of a break-in?’
Fox shook his head.
‘Someone he knew then – which brings us back to the nephew.’
‘The papers had been moved – swept to the floor.’
‘Deceased could have done that himself,’ Kaye commented. ‘Annoyed about something… fit of temper.’
Naysmith was resting his backside against the arm of Alan Carter’s fireside chair. ‘Why leave the dog?’ he asked.
‘Good question,’ Kaye replied with a nod. ‘An animal-loving assassin?’
‘There was no grievance against the dog,’ Fox said.
‘As far as they were concerned,’ Naysmith added, ‘Alan Carter had to die.’
Kaye gave a grunt that sounded like agreement. ‘So what had he turned up?’ he asked Fox.
‘The Vernal case, you mean?’ Fox considered his answer. ‘Not a whole lot, as far as I can see.’
‘That might be a dead end, then – and we’re back to the nephew again.’
Kaye did a circuit of the room, opening drawers, studying ornaments, even crouching down in front of the fireplace and peering at the ash and dead cinders in the grate. He got to his feet, sniffed, and made for the kitchen, after which all three men climbed the stairs to the upper floor.
‘Cottage used to belong to Gavin Willis,’ Fox recited. ‘Willis was Alan Carter’s mentor – seasoned DI to his L-plate DC. When Willis died, Carter bought the place and practised his lack of DIY skills on it.’
‘Should’ve stuck to the day job,’ Kaye agreed.
‘When Paul Carter was young, his dad brought him here – Uncle Alan said he didn’t need any help.’
‘He was lying,’ Kaye stated.
‘Bit of replastering… new wallpaper…’
Kaye looked at Fox. ‘You think he was looking for something?’
‘Money went missing when Vernal died – a few thousand.’
‘Cash? That would make a hell of a bump in any patch of wallpaper.’
‘Maybe it wasn’t money, then,’ Fox speculated.
Kaye had caught on by now: he knew Fox was using him as a sounding board, and acknowledged as much with a wink.
‘The car?’ Joe Naysmith asked. ‘Much better hiding place.’
‘Yes,’ Fox agreed.
‘But the car was in the garage, right?’ Kaye said. ‘So why tear the cottage to pieces?’
‘Maybe Alan Carter didn’t know about the car,’ Naysmith replied. ‘Not straight off.’
‘Maybe,’ Fox conceded.
‘You want to come back here with some tools and start stripping the place?’ Kaye offered. He watched Fox shake his head. ‘Because you think if anything was here, Alan Carter found it?’
This time Fox shrugged.
Kaye took another of his little tours, opening drawers and cupboard doors. ‘We’re all cops here,’ he commented. ‘Where would we hide something?’
‘In full view?’ Naysmith suggested.
‘That might actually work, so long as it was the likes of Cash and his stooge looking for it. How about you, Foxy?’
‘Under the mattress… maybe a loose floorboard…’
Kaye stared at him. ‘At least Joe’s got a bit of imagination.’
‘There are acres of farmland and hundreds of trees out there. Could be anywhere.’
Kaye considered this. ‘Seems to me Paul Carter’s still the obvious candidate.’ He paused. ‘Can we go home now?’
Fox met his colleague’s stare. ‘I’d like it if you took a look at the garage first,’ he requested.
‘And then we can go home?’
‘Maybe,’ Fox hedged.
The key to the garage’s padlock was back on its hook in the kitchen. It seemed that nobody from CID had been particularly interested in the rusting wreck. Naysmith and Fox removed the tarpaulin while Kaye looked at the tools and paint cans on the cobwebbed shelves.
‘Removed from the crash site before anyone could really examine it,’ Fox stated.
‘Willis went to the scrapyard personally,’ Naysmith added. ‘Had them bring it here.’
‘So?’ Kaye brushed dust from his palms.
‘All we really know about Willis is he was old-school, he was close to Alan Carter, and he maybe pocketed firearms instead of getting rid of them.’
‘None of which ties him to Francis Vernal.’
‘Except that Vernal had links to radical groups, and those radical groups had weapons.’
‘What do we have on the gun that killed the lawyer?’
‘Next to nothing,’ Fox conceded.
Kaye folded his arms. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘give me the wildest fucking conspiracy theory you can come up with.’
Fox hesitated for only a moment. ‘Spooks,’ he said. ‘Vernal was being followed, office and home broken into. His friends in the Dark Harvest Commando were scaring the powers-that-be.’
‘They assassinated him? Why?’
‘He was a threat?’ Naysmith offered.
‘Was he, though?’ Kaye asked Fox.
Fox considered the question. ‘At most, he handled the money. Nobody seems to think he led any group.’
‘Then who did?’
‘Have you spoken to him?’
‘He’s in Carstairs.’ Fox paused. ‘You think I should go see him?’
‘Your call, not mine.’ Kaye walked around the Volvo. ‘You’ve checked it out?’
‘I did,’ Naysmith replied. ‘Climbed in and had a rummage.’
‘The logbook,’ Fox corrected him.
‘Look in the boot?’
When Fox shook his head, Kaye lifted a chisel from the workbench and started prising at the metal. Naysmith joined in with a screwdriver. Eventually the lock gave way. There was straw inside: all that remained of a nest of some kind. The spare tyre was flat, the rubber perished. Kaye lifted it and checked beneath. When he tried moving the felt flooring, it crumbled. There was a jack, but nothing else. Fox realised he’d been holding his breath, half expecting the money to be there. Kaye made a non-committal noise and walked to the other end of the vehicle, examining the crumpled frame. ‘I thought these things were built of bricks. Must have been doing a fair lick…’
‘Vernal had been visiting his lover,’ Fox informed him.
‘Was he in a hurry to get away?’
‘Someone could have been on his tail.’
‘Spooks again, eh? Reckon they’d open their files to us?’
Kaye placed the tarpaulin on the ground and lay down on it, shuffling underneath the car. ‘Doesn’t look like anything’s been tampered with. Hard to say, though, after all this time…’ When he emerged, he brushed himself down. ‘Does the girlfriend have anything to add?’
‘She did a vanishing trick soon after.’
‘Which you interpret as someone putting the frighteners on her?’
Kaye rubbed at his jaw. ‘If I’m being honest, Malcolm, I don’t think you’ve got anything.’
‘But is that because there’s nothing there to get?’
Kaye narrowed his eyes and thought this over. ‘I wouldn’t go quite that far.’
‘Would you keep at it, though?’
‘Me personally?’ Kaye shook his head slowly. ‘Simple life’s what I’m after. You, on the other hand…’ He didn’t feel the need to finish the sentence.
Fox stared at the car, then grabbed a corner of the tarpaulin. Joe Naysmith helped him cover it up again.
Fox dropped them back at the car park behind the police station.
‘What’s next?’ he asked.
Kaye looked at Naysmith. ‘I’d say we’re ready to prep a final report.’
‘I might have a couple of supplementary questions,’ Naysmith countered.
‘And would those be for the fragrant DC Forrester?’
Naysmith tried his hardest not to let the colour rise to his face. Kaye chuckled and slapped him on the back.
‘How about you?’ he asked Fox.
‘Cash doesn’t want me anywhere near here.’
‘The perfect excuse to go back to your archaeological dig?’
‘Something like that.’
Kaye nodded, then slung an arm around Naysmith’s shoulders. He was offering dating advice as the two of them headed for the station’s rear door. Fox sat in his car with the engine idling, thinking of the smashed-up maroon 244. Willis had wanted it for a reason. He must have thought that it represented evidence of something – a little insurance policy of some kind. If he had removed the money, why hang on to the car? And how could he have known about the money in the first place? Unless he had ties to the Dark Harvest Commando. Close ties.
Fox looked down at the floor in front of the passenger seat. The 244’s logbook was lying there. He reached down and picked it up. What was it Naysmith had said…?
In full view…
And Tony Kaye: That might actually work…
A lot of the pages had stuck together. Fox tried separating them, but they tended to tear. He ran his fingers over them, feeling for anything hidden inside. At the back was the clear plastic pocket containing MOTs and service invoices. These weren’t in the best of health either. The car’s owner was listed as Mr F. Vernal, address in the Grange. The car had been serviced by a garage on Edinburgh’s south side.
Replacement tyres… oil changes… brake fluid…10,000-mile service
… new windscreen wipers…
Fox stared at one of the sheets, trying to make sense of it. It was on the same headed paper – MJM Motors – but the handwriting was different. It looked like an invoice, but it wasn’t one.
‘You sneaky little bastard,’ Fox said quietly to himself. Gavin Willis’s work: had to be. A list of firearms supplied to someone called ‘Hawk’ – presumably short for Hawkeye. The sums added up to almost twelve hundred pounds. Looked to Fox as though there had been three or four different deliveries, totalling twelve weapons and numberless rounds of ammo. Two revolvers, two pistols, a shotgun and seven rifles. Fox ran a finger across the word ‘Hawk’.
Whether member or sympathiser, here was evidence that Gavin Willis had definitely been a supplier, dealing with the man called Hawkeye, who would then use the guns in his armed robberies.
Willis must have told Alan Carter – and Carter didn’t want his mentor’s reputation sullied. Nobody could ever know, even with Willis in his grave.
‘Couldn’t risk it, could you?’ Fox muttered aloud. ‘Couldn’t risk anyone buying the cottage and finding something.’
Had the revolver been there all along? Alan Carter holding on to it? In which case, someone had wrested it from him and made him sit at the table… Fox shook his head slowly. He couldn’t imagine it. Alan Carter would have stood toe-to-toe with any assailant. If told to sit, he would have refused.
Fox went through the other invoices, but there were no other clues. He wondered if Alan Carter had known. No, because wouldn’t he have destroyed it? Come to that, wouldn’t he also have rid himself of any gun he found? Yes, ripping up the cottage and destroying whatever he deemed incriminating. Willis’s reputation had to be upheld. Tony Kaye’s words rang in his head: I don’t think you’ve got anything…
‘Not strictly true, compadre,’ Fox said determinedly.
Nothing happened for a few days.
The Complaints were back in their office in Edinburgh. Kaye and Naysmith were writing up their report for Fife Constabulary. The message had come through: with the death of Paul Carter, no further action was to be taken.
‘Just give the bosses in Fife whatever you’ve got,’ Bob McEwan had explained.
Alan Carter’s body had been released, but not his nephew’s. Carter’s wish had been for cremation, ashes scattered on the rose beds outside the crematorium building. Fox attended the ceremony. Teddy Fraser led the tributes, and sure enough, when the minister failed to mention Alan’s football prowess, Teddy put him right with mention of the twenty-nine-goal season. Jimmy Nicholl was there too, Teddy carrying the compliant dog with him to the podium, refusing offers of help.
The chapel was packed. Fox wondered if there’d be half as many at Paul Carter’s funeral – somehow he doubted it. The Fife Constabulary brass might feel they had to show willing, but a lot of the townsfolk would stay away. They knew the rumours: Alan Carter’s body had been released only because his killer was also deceased.
As they waited for the coffin to arrive, retired cops shook hands with each other, patted backs, slapped shoulders and reminisced. Robinson was there in his sergeant’s uniform, its silver buttons gleaming. Half the town seemed to have known Alan Carter. There were scowls and mutterings concerning the presence of the Shafiq family, the ones Carter’s firm had butted heads with. Father and two sons, the sons with their hair slicked back, sharply suited, Ray-Bans a fixture throughout.
Fox had asked Teddy Fraser about the history.
‘Storm in a whisky glass,’ he explained. ‘Except that the dad’s teetotal.’
Scholes, Haldane and Michaelson were in attendance too, but kept clear of Fox – and the Shafiqs. Evelyn Mills went for a drink with Fox afterwards.
‘Case goes on,’ she told him. ‘Just because the major suspect’s also dead doesn’t mean we brush it under the carpet.’ She paused. ‘On the other hand…’
‘No one’s going to be busting a gut?’ Fox guessed.
He had suspected as much from the look of DI Cash and DS Young as they sat in their pew, faces relaxed, job done.
‘Thing is, Evelyn, if Paul didn’t do it, the killer’s still out there.’
‘Give me another name, then – give me something concrete.’
Charles Mangold had asked much the same of him, a night later.
‘Imogen is slipping away from us, Inspector. She may not be here much longer.’
‘Sorry to hear that,’ Fox had said.
‘Time is pressing.’
‘I’m doing what I can.’
Except that he had done almost nothing. Mostly he’d been preparing to give evidence in court – a case dating back almost a year and a half had finally come to trial. Reading back through the notes, he realised there were a couple of gaps – little holes in proper procedure – which a good counsel would spot and then jab away at, like a boxer spying a nick above their opponent’s eye. Fox had worked on his defence, honing two or three counter-arguments, only for the trial to be postponed at the last minute.
So now he sat in the office at Fettes, offering occasional help to Kaye and Naysmith as they prepared the report, and providing a sympathetic ear to McEwan as he muttered darkly about the latest meetings and proposals for cost-cutting.
‘Are we police or accountants? If I’d wanted to spend all my time on a calculator, I’d have paid more attention during Mr Gentry’s maths lessons…’
When the phone rang on Fox’s desk, it was reception, telling him he had a visitor.
Detective Chief Inspector Jackson.
Fox narrowed his eyes. ‘You sure it’s me he wants?’ Jackson: the tourist from Special Branch in London.
‘You’re the only Fox we’ve got,’ the officer on the front desk said. ‘Want me to fob him off?’
‘Point him in the direction of the canteen,’ Fox instructed, ending the call and shrugging his arms back into the sleeves of his suit jacket.
Jackson was queuing at the counter, nothing on his tray as yet. Fox caught up with him as he stood in front of the till.
‘What can I get you?’ Jackson asked.
‘Tea,’ Fox said.
‘Two teas,’ Jackson told the server.
‘Pot and two tea bags?’ she suggested.
‘Perfect,’ Jackson responded with a smile.
They went to a table by the window, sitting down so that they faced one another.
‘What brings you here?’ Fox asked.
‘Just passing.’ Jackson saw the look on Fox’s face and gave another smile. ‘No, not really.’
‘How are things going with Lockerbie and Peebles?’
‘Found your bombers yet?’
Jackson stared at him. ‘They are out there, you know. I’d have thought you would understand that.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘The case you’re working on.’
It was Fox’s turn to stare. ‘What about it?’
‘I was curious. So I did a bit of digging. You have to admit, the internet is a real old viper’s nest, isn’t it? Half-truths and guesswork and theories from the outer limits…’
‘Plenty of conspiracies,’ Fox made show of agreeing.
‘From what I hear, though, your researcher was killed by his nephew – some sort of long-held grudge.’ Jackson sipped his tea, peering at Fox above the rim of the cup.
‘That’s all right, then, isn’t it?’ Fox responded.
‘Why was Alan Carter so interested in Francis Vernal?’
‘More to the point, why are you?’
Jackson shrugged, as if to concede that the question was fair. ‘I spoke to a detective inspector. He tells me the lawyer’s car’s been found.’
‘Supposedly went for scrap,’ Jackson continued, ‘but someone decided to keep it.’
Fox made a non-committal noise.
‘Willis, is that the name?’
‘Was the name,’ Fox corrected him.
‘Willis and the researcher were friends… colleagues…’
‘I still don’t see why any of this would concern you.’
‘Or you, come to that,’ Jackson countered. ‘Who was Alan Carter working for?’
‘What makes you think he was working for anyone?’
‘The lawyer died a quarter of a century back – I’m guessing something, or more likely someone, piqued his interest.’
‘What if they did?’
Jackson took another sip of tea and shifted his gaze to the world outside the windows. ‘Those outer limits I was talking about… plenty of conspiracy theorists seem to think the security services might have had a hand in Francis Vernal’s demise.’
‘You’re here to tell me they’re wrong?’
‘The game’s changed these days, Inspector. Lots of new ways to spread gossip and disinformation. A good number of people out there have a vested interest in seeing the security services tripped up and tarred.’ He glanced back towards Fox. ‘It would reassure me if I knew who had ordered the investigation into Vernal’s death.’
‘Nobody with a grudge against your sort,’ Fox stated.
‘Are you sure about that?’
‘A friend of the widow. He wants her to have a sense of closure before she dies.’
‘No other motive?’
Fox visualised the red-faced, rotund lawyer. ‘No other motive,’ he said.
Jackson gave a thoughtful pout. ‘Thank you for that, Inspector.’ He seemed to be considering what to say next.
‘You went digging?’ Fox prompted him.
Jackson nodded slowly.
‘And you found something?’
‘Something and nothing. Friend Vernal had been on our radar for some time.’
Jackson offered a twitch of the mouth. ‘He’d been under surveillance.’
‘The night he died?’
‘He had a tail on him? Could that be why he was speeding?’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘But there were…’ Fox sought the right word. ‘There were agents? Tracking his car?’
Jackson nodded, but said nothing.
‘But that means when he crashed…’ Fox’s eyes were boring into Jackson’s, ‘there were people there… within seconds…’
‘Nobody shot him, though. They checked he was breathing, then got the hell out of there.’
‘To phone for an ambulance?’
Jackson shook his head. ‘Afraid not.’
‘Couldn’t risk it. Any involvement, the operation would have been jeopardised.’
‘They just left him there?’
‘Breathing. Not looking too bad at all.’
‘This is all in the files?’
‘Reading between the lines.’
Fox thought for a moment. ‘Reading between the lines, was he also assassinated?’
‘How can you be so sure?’
‘They were watchers – not an armed detail.’
‘And no orders to kill him?’
‘But they did break into his house, his office…?’