Authors: Ian Rankin
‘Weekend’s coming, Janice. Thought I might stay over till tomorrow. Is there still a hotel in town?’
She hesitated for a moment. ‘You can stay with us.’
‘A hotel will be fine.’
But she shook her head. ‘You’ll understand, I couldn’t let you have Damon’s room, but there’s always the couch.’
Rebus pretended to be torn. ‘OK then,’ he said at last. Thinking: I want to be there overnight; I want to be close to her. Not for any obvious reasons – reasons he might have put to himself a day or two ago – but because he wanted to know if Cary Oakes would travel to Cardenden, stake out her home. Whatever Oakes was planning, it was moving apace. If he was going to move on Janice, Rebus reckoned it would be at the weekend.
If anything happened, Rebus needed to be there.
‘I’ll just throw some stuff in a bag,’ he said, heading for his bedroom.
Rebus took Janice to Sammy’s first of all. He just wanted to check on her. She was doing pull-ups with the help of her parallel bars, hoisting herself to standing, locking her knees, then easing herself back into the wheelchair. The front door was unlocked: she kept it that way when Ned wasn’t home. Rebus had been worried, until she’d explained her reasoning.
‘I had to weigh up the chances, Dad: me needing help, versus someone breaking in. If I’m lying paralysed on my back, I want any Good Samaritans to be able to get in.’
She wore a grey sleeveless T-shirt, its back turned a darker grey by sweat. There was a towel around her shoulders, and her hair was matted to her forehead.
‘God knows if this is helping my legs,’ she said, ‘but I’m getting a shot-putter’s biceps.’
‘And not an anabolic steroid in sight,’ he said, leaning down to kiss her. ‘This is Janice, old school-pal of mine.’
‘Hello, Janice,’ Sammy said. When she looked back at her father, he felt embarrassed, and wasn’t sure why.
‘Her son’s disappeared,’ he explained. ‘I’m trying to help.’
Sammy wiped her face with the towel.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. Janice smiled and shrugged.
‘Janice still lives in Cardenden,’ Rebus went on. ‘We’re headed back there, in case you were thinking of phoning me tonight.’
‘Right,’ Sammy said, her face still busy in the towel. Now that he was here, he knew he’d made some kind of mistake, knew Sammy was jumping to all the wrong
conclusions, and couldn’t think of a way out without embarrassing Janice.
‘So I’ll see you some time,’ he said.
‘I’m not going anywhere.’ She had finished with the towel; was studying the bars, the extent of her current universe.
‘We’ll have to go through there some day. I can show you my old hunting-ground.’
She nodded. ‘We can take Patience, too. I’m sure she wouldn’t want to be left out.’
‘Have a nice weekend, Sammy,’ he said, making for the door.
She neglected to tell him to do the same.
‘I’ll just phone Patience,’ he said, easing his mobile out of his pocket. They were back in the car, heading for the A90. Patience sometimes went out with friends on a Friday night; it was a regular thing – drinks and a meal, maybe a play or concert. Three other women doctors: two of them divorced, one still apparently happily married. She answered on the fourth ring.
‘It’s me,’ he said.
‘What have I told you about using that thing when you’re driving?’
‘I’m stalled at lights,’ he lied, giving Janice a conspirator’s wink. She looked uncomfortable.
‘I have to go to Fife, couple of interviews I want to get out of the way. I’ll probably stay the night. Are you going out?’
‘In about twenty minutes.’
‘Say hello to the gang from me.’
‘John … when are we going to see one another?’
‘I’m going over to Sammy’s tomorrow.’
‘Right,’ he said. Sammy would tell Patience about Janice. Patience would know Janice had been in the car when he’d called her. ‘I’m staying the night with some friends: Janice and Brian.’
‘The ones you were at school with?’
‘That’s right. I didn’t realise I’d mentioned them.’
‘You hadn’t. Thing is, as far as I’m aware you haven’t
any friends since school.’
‘Bye, Patience,’ he said, easing into the outside lane and putting his foot down.
Dr Patience Aitken had a taxi ordered. When it arrived, the driver pushed open her gate, headed down the steep and winding set of stone steps which led to her garden flat. He rang the doorbell and waited, scuffing his feet on the flagstones. He liked the New Town’s garden flats, the way they were below street level at the front, but had gardens at the back. And they had these little courtyards at the front, with cellars built into the facing wall. Not that you’d use the cellars for much; too damp. Certainly not for keeping wine in. He’d taken the wife to the Loire the previous summer, learned all about the wines. He had three mixed cases now, stored in the cupboard beneath his stairs. Far from ideal conditions: a modern two-storey semi out at Fairmilehead. Too dry, too warm. What he needed was a flat like this one – he’d bet there’d be cupboards inside just right for laying down wine, cool and dryish with thick stone walls.
He noticed that the doctor had tried for a sort of garden feel in the courtyard: hanging baskets, terracotta pots. Nothing down here would get too much light, that was the thing. First thing he’d done with his front garden when he’d moved in: put flagstones over most of it, leaving just a square of earth in the middle, couple of roses planted in there. Minimum maintenance.
The door opened and the doctor stepped out, pulling a
shawl around her shoulders. Perfume wafted out with her: nothing too overbearing.
‘Sorry I’ve kept you,’ she said, pulling the door closed and making for the steps.
‘I’d double-lock it if I were you,’ he suggested.
‘Yales,’ he explained, shaking his head. ‘A kid could be inside in ten seconds flat.’
She thought about it, shrugged her shoulders. ‘What’s life without a bit of a risk?’
‘As long as you’re insured,’ he said, studying her ankles as he climbed the steps after her.
Jim Stevens lay on his bed, one hand covering his eyes, the other holding the telephone receiver to his ear. He was listening to Matt Lewin, who had just told him how good the weather was in Seattle. Stevens had faxed him portions of Cary Oakes’s ‘confession’, and Lewin was giving his views.
‘Well, Jim, bits of it seem to tally all right. The truck driver story is new, and frankly, I don’t think it’s worth chasing.’
‘You think he made it up?’
‘Not my problem, thank God. I tell you, Jim, no disrespect, but I wouldn’t trust anything that bastard told me, and I sure as hell wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing it in print.’
Which seemed to be Stevens’ boss’s view, too. The projected eight-parter had been cut to just five.
‘I’m sure as hell glad he’s your problem now and not ours,’ Lewin went on.
‘He giving you any trouble?’
Stevens didn’t see the point in telling Lewin that Oakes was proving more awkward by the day. He’d slipped away from the hotel again that afternoon, stayed out the best part of three hours and wouldn’t say where he’d been.
‘It’s nearly over anyway,’ Stevens said, rubbing his hand over his brow.
‘Good riddance, that’s my advice.’
‘Yes.’ But Stevens couldn’t help but worry. He worried about what Oakes would do with himself afterwards, once he was out on the street. No way was Stevens’ paper going to come up with ten K, not for the scraps Oakes had given them. Stevens still had to break that news to Oakes.
He worried for himself too. He was part of Oakes’s sphere now, and was just hoping Oakes would let him go.
He got the feeling, God help him, that it might not be all that easy …
Cary Oakes watched the taxi leave. Dr P, he presumed. Getting on a bit, but then the state Rebus was in, he doubted he’d be complaining. Basement apartment too: perfect for what he had in mind. He came out from behind the parked car and looked up and down the street. The place was dead. Half of Edinburgh seemed dead to him: you could wander around for ages and not go noticed, never mind raise suspicion.
Jim Stevens had been in a foul mood, watching the Cary Oakes story relegated as the editor decided to run a special on vigilanteism. Stevens blamed the paedophile murder.
‘Bloody Rebus again,’ he’d muttered, and Oakes had asked him to explain.
Stevens’ theory: Rebus had outed Darren Rough, raised the mob against him. And now one of them had taken it too far. Everything Oakes learned about the detective made Rebus seem more interesting, more complicated.
‘What sort of code does he live by, do you think?’ he’d asked.
Stevens had snorted. ‘Could be Morse or Highway for all I know.’
‘Some people make up their own rules,’ Oakes had mused.
‘You mean like the serial killer?’
‘The one who picked you up in his truck.’
‘Oh, him … Well, yes, of course.’
And Stevens had looked at him. And Cary Oakes had stared back.
He crossed the road now. No houses across the street from where he’d be working, just a wrought-iron fence, a bank of grass behind it. No neighbours to spot him as he went about his business.
He expected no interruptions at all.
The batteries were fading anyway, Rebus rationalised, and he didn’t have the recharger with him. So he switched off his mobile.
‘The weekend starts here,’ he said, as they crossed the Forth Road Bridge into Fife.
Later: ‘Roads have changed,’ as they came off the dual carriageway outside Kirkcaldy. But the old Kirkcaldy–Cardenden road seemed much the same, same twists and turns, potholes and bumps.
‘Remember we walked to Kirkcaldy once to go to the pictures?’ Janice said.
Rebus smiled. ‘I’d forgotten that. Why didn’t we just take the bus?’
‘I think we didn’t have enough money.’
He frowned. ‘Was it just us?’
‘Mitch and his girlfriend too. Can’t remember who he was dating at the time.’
‘He went through them, all right.’
got fed up of
‘Maybe.’ They sat in silence for a minute. ‘What was the film?’
‘The one we walked six miles to see.’
‘I don’t recall watching much of it.’
They glanced at one another, burst out laughing.
Brian Mee heard the car, came out to meet them.
‘This is a surprise,’ he said, shaking Rebus’s hand.
‘I need to talk to Damon’s pals,’ Rebus explained.
Janice touched her husband’s arm. ‘He said he wanted to go to the hotel.’
‘Rubbish, you can stay with us. Damon’s room’s …’
‘I thought maybe the sofa,’ Janice interjected.
Brian recovered well. ‘Oh aye, it’s not that old. Comfy too. I should know: I nod off on it most nights myself.’
‘That’s settled then,’ Janice said. She had a man on either arm as she walked up the front path.
They ordered Chinese from the takeaway, opened a couple of bottles of wine. Old stories, rekindled memories. Half-remembered names; the exploits of those who’d grown old in the town; changes to the fabric of the place. Rebus had phoned Damon’s friends, the ones who’d been with him at Gaitano’s, but neither of them was in. He’d left messages, saying he had to see them in the morning.
‘We could go out for a drink,’ he told his hosts. His eyes were on Janice as he spoke. ‘Be the first time we had a drink together in the Goth without being underage.’
‘The Goth’s shut, John,’ Brian said.
‘They’re turning it into a centre for the unemployed.’
‘Isn’t that what it always was?’
They smiled at that. The Goth closed: his dad’s watering-hole; the first place John Rebus had ever bought a round.
‘Railway Tavern’s still going,’ Brian added. ‘We’ll be there tomorrow night for the karaoke.’
‘You’ll stay for that, won’t you?’ Janice asked.
‘I’m kind of allergic to karaokes, actually.’ Rebus was once again in the ‘seat by the fire’, the one he’d been made to sit in on his first visit. The TV was playing, sound turned down. It was like a magnet, their eyes sliding towards it throughout the conversation. Janice cleared away the dishes – they’d eaten with the plates on their laps. He helped her take the things through to the kitchen,
saw it was too small for three people to eat in. There was a dining table in front of the living room window, but set with ornaments, its leaves folded. Used for special occasions only. With the leaves opened, it would all but fill the room. They ate all their meals on their laps, in front of the TV. He imagined the three of them – mother, father, son – staring at the screen, using it to excuse the lengthening gaps in conversation.
After coffee, Janice said she was going up to bed. Brian said he’d be up in a while. She brought down blankets and a pillow for Rebus, told him where the bathroom was. Told him where the light-switch was in the hall. Told him there was plenty of hot water if he wanted a bath.
‘See you in the morning.’
Brian reached for the remote, switched off the TV, then caught himself.
‘There wasn’t something you wanted to …?’
Rebus shook his head. ‘I’m not a big fan.’
‘And what would you say to a wee whisky?’
‘More my cup of tea altogether,’ Rebus acknowledged with a smile.
They sipped the whisky in silence. It wasn’t a malt: maybe Teacher’s or Grant’s. Brian had added a dollop of water to his, but Rebus hadn’t bothered.
‘Where do you think he is?’ Brian asked at last, swirling the drink around the rim of his glass. ‘Just between us, like.’
As if Janice couldn’t take it; as if he were stronger than her.
‘I don’t know, Brian. I wish I did.’
‘They normally go to London, though.’
‘And most of them do OK for themselves?’
Rebus nodded, not wanting any of this, wishing of a sudden that he was back in his flat with his own whisky, his music and books. But Brian had a need to talk.
‘I blame us, you know.’