Authors: Stuart MacBride
1 London Bridge Street,
London, SE1 9GF
First published by HarperCollins
Copyright © Stuart MacBride 2015
Stuart MacBride asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work
Cover layout design © HarperCollins
Cover image © Irene Lamprakou / Arcangel Images
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
This is a work of fiction. Any references to real people, living or dead, real events, businesses, organizations and localities are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity. All names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and their resemblance, if any, to real-life counterparts is entirely coincidental.
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Source ISBN: 9780008124014
Ebook Edition © APRIL 2015 ISBN: 9780007494743
Table of Contents
… it was a long way down.
Logan shuffled along the damp concrete ledge.
His left shoe skidded on something, wheeching out over the gaping drop. ‘Aaagh…’
He grabbed at the handrail, heart thumping as the carrier bag from Markies spiralled away, down … down … down … fluttering like a green plastic bat on a suicide run.
All the saliva disappeared from his mouth, leaving the taste of old batteries behind.
The bag battered into the cobbled street: prawn-and-mayonnaise sandwich exploding, the bottle of Coke spraying foam out at the circle of onlookers. The ones nearest danced back a couple of paces, out of reach of the sticky brown foam. Then stared up at him again: a circle of pale faces and open mouths. Waiting.
One or two of them had their mobile phones out, filming. Probably hoping for something horrible to happen so they could post it on YouTube.
Had to be at
sixty feet down.
Why couldn’t jumpers leap off bungalows? Why did the selfish sods always threaten to throw themselves off bloody huge buildings?
Logan inched closer to the man standing at the far edge of the roof. ‘You…’ He cleared his throat, but it didn’t shift the taste. ‘You don’t have to do this.’
The man didn’t look around. One hand gripped the railing beside him, the skin stained dark red. Blood. It spread up his sleeve – turning the grey suit jacket almost black.
His other hand was just as bad. The sticky scarlet fingers were curled around a carving knife, the blade glinting against the pale grey sky. Black handle, eight-inch blade, the metal streaked with more red.
Because what was the point of slitting your wrists in the privacy of your own home when you could do it on top of a dirty big building in the east end of Aberdeen instead? With a nice big audience to watch you jump.
And it was a
Logan dragged his eyes away from the slick cobblestones. ‘It isn’t worth it.’
Another shrug. Mr Suicide’s voice trembled, not much more than a broken whisper. ‘How could she
‘Why don’t you put down the knife and come back inside?’
The distant wail of a siren cut through the drab afternoon.
‘Knife…?’ He turned his head and frowned. Little pointy nose, receding hairline, thin face, watery eyes lurking above bruise-coloured bags. A streak of dried blood across his forehead. The front of his shirt was soaked through with it, sticking to his pigeon chest. The sour stink of hot copper and rotting onions radiated out of him like tendrils.
Logan inched closer. ‘Put it down, and we can go inside and talk about it, OK?’
He looked down at the carving knife in his hand, eyes narrowing, forehead creasing. As if he’d never seen it before. ‘Oh…’
‘What’s your name?’
‘OK, John: I’m Logan, and I’m going to— Bollocks.’ His phone rang deep in his pocket, blaring out the Imperial March from
. He fumbled it out with one hand, the other still wrapped tightly around the railing. ‘What?’
A smoky, gravelly voice burst from the earpiece.
‘Where the hell are you?’
Detective Chief Inspector Steel. She sniffed.
‘Supposed to be—’
‘I’m kinda busy right now…’
‘I don’t care if you’re having a foursome with Doris Day, Natalie Portman, and a jar of Nutella – I’m hungry. Where’s my sodding lunch?’
.’ He held the phone against his chest. ‘What’s your last name, John?’
‘What does it matter?’ John went back to staring at the ground, blood dripping from his fingertips. ‘Skinner. John Skinner.’
‘Right.’ Back to the phone, keeping his voice down. ‘Run a PNC check on a John Skinner, IC-one male, mid-thirties. I need—’
‘Do I look like your mum? Lunch, lunch, lunch, lunch—’
For God’s sake.
, can you think about someone other than your sodding self?’ Logan pulled on a smile for the blood-soaked man teetering on the edge of the roof. ‘Sorry, my boss is a bit…’ He curled his lip. ‘Well, you know.’
‘And another thing – how come you’ve no’ filled out the overtime returns yet? You got any idea—’
.’ He thumbed the off button and stuck the phone back in his pocket. ‘Come on, John, put the knife down. It’ll be OK.’
‘No.’ John shook his head, wiped a hand across his glistening eyes, leaving a thick streak of scarlet behind, like warpaint. ‘No it won’t.’ He held the knife out and dropped it.
The blade tumbled through the air then clattered against the cobbled street below.
A uniformed PC turned up, pushing the crowd back, widening the semicircle, looking up over her shoulder and talking into her airwave handset. With any luck there’d be a trained suicide negotiator on scene in a couple of minutes. And maybe the fire brigade with one of those big inflatable mattress things in case the negotiator didn’t work. And this would all be someone else’s problem.
‘It’ll never be OK again.’ John let go of the railing. ‘How could it?’
‘Don’t do anything you’ll—’
‘I’m sorry.’ He crouched, leaned backwards … then jumped, springing out from the roof. Eyes closed.
‘NO!’ Logan lunged, hand grasping the air where John Skinner wasn’t any more.
Someone down there screamed.
John Skinner’s suit jacket snapped and fluttered in the wind, arms windmilling, legs thrashing all the way down. Getting smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and
A wet crunch. A spray of blood.
Body all twisted and broken, bright red seeping out onto the dark grey cobblestones. More screaming.
Logan crumpled back against the railing, holding on tight, and peered over the edge.
The ring of bystanders had flinched away as John Skinner hit, but now they were creeping closer again, phones held high to get a decent view over the heads of their fellow ghouls.
The wailing siren got closer, then a patrol car skidded to a halt and four officers clambered out. Pushed their way through the amateur film crew. Then stood there staring at what was left of John Skinner.
Logan’s mobile burst into the Imperial March again. Steel calling with the PNC check on their victim. He pulled the phone out. Pressed the button. ‘You’re too late.’
‘Aye, see when I said, “Get your bumhole back here”, I meant now. No’ tomorrow, no’ in a fortnight:
. Sodding starving here.’
‘Where the hell have you been?’ DCI Steel had commandeered his seat, slouching there with both feet up on his desk. A wrinkled wreck in a wrinkled suit, with a napkin tucked into the collar of her blue silk shirt. Tomato sauce smeared on either side of her mouth; the smoky scent of bacon thick in the air. She took another bite of the buttie in her hand, talking and chewing at the same time. ‘Could’ve starved to death waiting for you.’
She’d made some sort of effort with her hair today – possibly with a garden strimmer. It stuck out at random angles, grey showing through in a thick line at the roots.
Logan dumped his coat on the hook beside the door. ‘Feel free to sod off soon as you like.’
She swallowed. Pointed. ‘You owe me a smoked-ham-and-mustard sandwich and a bottle of Coke. And change from a fiver.’
‘They didn’t have ham, so I got you prawn instead.’ He scrubbed a hand over his face, then dug in his pockets. Dumped a couple of pound coins on the desk. ‘Don’t suppose there’s any point asking you to get out of my seat?’
‘Nope. Come on: make with the lunch.’
He settled into the visitor’s chair, and slumped back, arms dangling loose at his sides. Frowning up at the ceiling. ‘He’s dead, by the way. In case you cared.’
‘I’m still no’ seeing any sandwiches here, Laz.’
‘Ambulance crew say it’d be pretty much instantaneous. Flattened his skull like stamping on a cardboard box.’
‘What about crisps?’
‘Got you salt-and-vinegar. I slipped on the rooftop, almost went over myself. Lunch hit the deck instead of me. You can fight the seagulls for it.’ He closed his eyes. ‘They’re probably busy eating leftover bits of John Skinner anyway.’
She sighed. ‘See when they call it “talking a jumper down”, they mean by the stairs, no’ the quick way.’
‘Funny.’ He put both hands over his face. ‘That’s really, really funny.’
‘Laz, you know I love you like a retarded wee brother, but it’s time to pull up your frilly man-panties and get over it.’ Steel’s voice softened. ‘People jump off things. They go splat. It happens. Nothing personal. Wasn’t your fault.’
Raised voices thundered past in the corridor outside, something about football and beer.
‘So…’ A click, then a sooking noise. ‘You got anything exciting on?’
He let his hands fall away. ‘It’s CID. There’s
anything exciting on.’
Steel made a figure of eight with the e-cigarette in her hand. ‘What did Aunty Roberta tell you?’
‘Don’t, OK? I’m not—’
‘“Come join the MIT,” I said. “These new specialist teams will hoover up all the interesting cases,” I said. “All you’ll be left with is the GED crap no one else wants to do,” I said. “It won’t be like it was when we were Grampian Police,” I said. But would you listen?’
A rap on the door, then Constable Guthrie stuck his head in. With his pale eyebrows, blond hair, and pink eyes he looked like a slightly startled rabbit. ‘Sorry, Guv, but I need a word. Inspector?’
Steel popped the fake cigarette between her teeth. ‘What?’
‘Er, not you, Guv – DI McRae.’
She sniffed. ‘No’ good enough for you, am I?’
‘It … I…’ He pulled his mouth into a dead-fish pout. Then held out a sheet of A4 towards Logan. ‘Did that PNC check you wanted: John Skinner, fourteen Buchanan Street, Kincorth. Married, two kids. Conviction for speeding eighteen months ago. Drives a dark blue BMW M5, registration number X—’
‘Who cares what he drives?’ Logan slumped further in his seat. ‘We’re not setting up a lookout request, Constable. We know fine well where he is.’
Pink bloomed on Guthrie’s cheeks. ‘Sorry, Guv.’ He shuffled his feet a bit. ‘Anyway, couple of people at the scene got the whole thing on their phones, you want to see the footage?’
‘I caught the live show, I
don’t need to see the action replay.’
Steel polished off the last of her buttie, then sooked the sauce and flour off her fingers. ‘Well, if you minions of CID will forgive me, I’ve got to go do some proper grown-up police work. Got a serial rapist on the books.’ She stood and stretched, arms up, exposing a semicircle of pale stomach. Then slumped a bit. Had a scratch at one boob. ‘Still hungry though.’
Guthrie pointed at his own cheek. ‘You’ve got tomato sauce, right here.’
‘Thanks.’ She wiped it off with a thumb. ‘And as a reward, you can get your pasty backside over to Buchanan Street, let the Merry Widow know her bloke’s died of cobblestone poisoning. Offer her a shoulder to cry on – perchance a quickie, or kneetrembler up against the tumble drier – then wheech her down the mortuary to ID the body.’
Logan gritted his teeth. ‘Do you have to be so bloody—’
‘Oh come off it, Laz – the boy Skinner topped
, no one made him do it. He jumped, leaving a wife and two wee kiddies to cope with the sticky aftermath. What kind of selfish scumbag does that?’ Steel hoiked up her trousers. ‘It’s always some poor cow that’s left picking up the pieces.’
And that’s exactly what the Scenes Examination Branch had to do. Pick up the pieces before the seagulls got their beaks into what was left spread across the cobbles of Exchequer Row.
‘… so I wondered if there was any news.’ Logan paused in the middle of the corridor, one hand on the door through to the main CID office.
A sigh came from the mobile’s earpiece.
‘I’m sorry, Mr McRae, but Mr and Mrs Moore feel it’s not really big enough for them.’
‘Oh.’ His shoulders dipped an inch. He cleared his throat. ‘Any other viewings coming up?’
‘Sorry. Mrs Denis called to cancel Wednesday. They’ve bought a new-build out by Inverurie instead. The market isn’t all that buoyant for one-bedroom flats right now.’
Great. Just – sodding – great.
‘Yeah, thanks anyway.’ The line went dead and he slipped the phone back in his pocket.
Eighteen months, and they’d achieved exactly bugger all.
He deflated a little further, then thunked his forehead off the CID door three times.
No reply. So Logan let himself in.
The main CID office wasn’t anywhere near as big as the one they’d shared before the change to Police Scotland: no big fancy flatscreen TV for briefings; no sink for making tea and coffee; no vending machine full of crisps, chocolate, and energy drinks. Instead, it was barely large enough to squeeze in four desks – one on each wall – and a pair of whiteboards covered in low-level crimes and lower-level criminals. A motley patchwork of manky carpet tiles clung to the concrete floor. Ceiling tiles stained like a toddler’s nappy. Ancient computers with flickering screens.
Even the filing cabinets looked depressed.
Logan wandered over to one of them and checked the kettle perched on top: half empty. He stuck it on to boil. ‘Where’s everyone?’
DS Baird looked up from her screen. Pulled the earbuds out. ‘Sorry, Guv?’ Her short blonde hair formed random spikes on top of a rectangular face with heavy eyebrows. A pair of thick-framed glasses in black magnified her eyes to twice the size they should have been. Her smile was like a wee shiny gift. ‘Coffee with two, if you’re making.’
He pulled two mugs out of the top drawer. ‘Where’s Stoney and Wheezy Doug?’
She pointed at one of the empty desks. ‘DC “couldn’t find his own backside with both hands” Stone’s off trying to find who’s been vandalizing cars in Mannofield, and DC “just as useless” Andrews is off taking witness statements for that fire-raising at the Garthdee Asda.’
‘You going to forgive them any time soon?’
‘No. You need something?’
‘Just interested.’ The kettle rumbled to a boil.
‘Hear you caught a jumper this afternoon.’ Creases appeared between those thick black eyebrows. ‘Well, not “caught” caught, but you know what I mean.’
‘Guthrie’s delivering the death message.’
A nod. ‘I hate doing suicides. Don’t mind telling someone their loved one’s died in a car crash, or an accident, or they’ve been stabbed, but suicides…’ Baird shuddered. ‘It’s the look of betrayal, you know?’
Logan dug a spoon into the coffee, breaking the kitty-litter clumps back into their individual grains. ‘How many times do I have to tell people
to put damp spoons in the jar?’
‘Like you’re making it up to spite them.’ A sigh. ‘Can’t really blame the family, though, can you?’
The office phone rang, and she picked it up. ‘CID: DS Baird.’ Then her expression curdled. ‘Not
… Really?… Uh-huh…’
Two sugars in one mug, milk in the other.
‘No. I can’t … He’s not here.’
Logan put the black coffee on her desk. She looked up and gave him a grimace in return. Put the phone against her chest, smothering the mouthpiece. ‘Sorry, Guv, but Mrs Black’s downstairs again.’
He took a sip of his own coffee. ‘Which brave soul doth possess the Nutter Spoon of Doom upon this dark day?’
Baird scooted her chair over to DC Andrews’s desk and pulled a wooden spoon from the top drawer. It had a photo of a woman’s face stuck to the bowl end: grey hair, squinty eyes, long nose, mouth stretched out and down, as if she’d taken a bite out of something foul.
‘Ooh…’ Logan sooked a breath in through his teeth. ‘Looks like it’s not your lucky day, Denise, for whomever wields the Nutter Spoon of Doom must—’
‘I’m on the no-go list. Apparently I’m in collusion with McLennan Homes and the Planning Department to launder drug money for the Taliban.’ She held out the spoon with its glowering stuck-on face. ‘Sorry, Guv.’
Logan backed away from it. ‘Maybe someone in uniform could—’
‘They’re all banned from talking to her. She’s got complaints in against everyone else.’
‘Yes, but…’ Baird waggled the spoon at him. ‘Maybe she’ll like you?’
Logan took the Nutter Spoon of Doom. It was only a little bit of wood with a photo Sellotaped to the end, but it felt as if it was carved from lead.