Read Double Mortice Online

Authors: Bill Daly

Double Mortice

‘Daly evokes Glasgow with a masterly touch’
ALEX GRAY

 

‘Brilliantly gripping and fast-moving … and the characters all have a rich credibility’
EUROCRIME

 

‘Impressive … a vivid new voice in Tartan noir’
MAGGIE CRAIG

 

‘Daly effortlessly incorporates the seedy underbelly of the city…
Black Mail
can proudly sit alongside books by far more established writers in the Glasgow noir field … A highly enjoyable debut’
crimefictionlover.co.uk

DOUBLE MORTICE

Bill Daly

For Mae, John, Ivy & Les

Sunday 13 February, 2011

Jack McFarlane grunted as he took the next punch to his solar plexus. He made no attempt to defend himself. That’s what they were hoping for. That he would try to fight back and his remission would be cut for brawling. That would give them the opportunity to have another go at him. But he hadn’t taken so many beatings over the years to crack now.

‘Where the fuck did you stash it?’ Rodgers growled, ramming both McFarlane’s arms painfully up his back.

‘Stash what?’

A hail of punches from McNee came hammering into McFarlane’s guts, causing him to retch.

When the sound of approaching footsteps rang out in the corridor, Rodgers released his grip and McFarlane sank to his knees, throwing up all over the cell floor.

Despite the pain, McFarlane managed a wry grin. This was the last time they would be able to do this to him.

Tomorrow, he was getting out.

Monday 14 February

Brutus sprang onto the black duvet and froze on landing. His claws sank into the yielding down and he kneaded the quilt as he stared through the gloom at the two recumbent shapes. Circling twice, he settled at the end of the bed and started teasing his knotted fur, the rhythmic rasping of his tongue seemingly synchronised with Michael’s regular snoring. When he’d finished grooming, Brutus rose, arched his back and stretched onto the tips of all four paws, his gaze flitting from one dormant figure to the other. Having made his choice, he picked his steps across the bed and purred noisily as he rubbed his whiskers into the nape of Michael’s neck.

Michael swatted out blindly as he drifted into consciousness. Rolling over, he prodded the figure by his side. ‘Anne. Wake up! Your bloody cat’s pestering me.’

He heard a sharp intake of breath. ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake! Is it too much to expect you to remember who you were screwing last night?’

Before he could react she’d scrambled from the bed and was striding, naked, towards the en suite bathroom, the glass shower door rattling in its frame as she slammed it behind her.

Michael mouthed a curse as he sat up in bed and buried his face in his hands. The moment his head left the pillow he felt the dull throb at the base of his skull; the nagging ache that plagued his every waking minute. Mornings were always the worst.

‘I’m sorry, Pippa,’ he called out in the general direction of the closed bathroom door. Raising his voice caused a further stab of
pain behind his eyes. ‘I was half-asleep. I was dreaming. The cat woke me up,’ he shouted while massaging his temples with his fingertips. ‘I always associate the cat with Anne…’ His voice tailed off, his lame excuse drowned by the crash of cascading water as the shower was turned up full.

Michael swung his legs over the side of the bed and groped to turn on the lamp. He reached for the pill-jar on the bedside table and spilled two paracetamol tablets onto the palm of his hand, stuffing them into his mouth and grimacing at the unpleasant taste as he crunched into the dry pills. He picked up the glass of water from the table and swallowed a long draught. Putting on his gold-framed spectacles, he squinted through them at his watch.

‘Shit!’ he muttered. ‘Late again.’ With a world-weary sigh he got to his feet and trudged over to the wardrobe. Sliding open the door, he pulled out his dressing gown and slipped it over his shoulders.

Michael Gibson was in his early forties, his once rugged features beginning to show signs of grizzled decline – his eyes puffy and faintly blood-shot, deep lines etched from nostrils to mouth, flecks of grey in his thinning, black hair.

When he pressed a concealed button beneath the window frame, a motor hummed quietly and the black-and-white striped curtains swished open. He switched off the bedside lamp and made his way along the corridor to the lounge, running his tongue round the roof of his mouth as he went in an attempt to rid himself of the lingering, bitter taste of paracetamol.

The decor in the lounge, as in all the rooms of the modern apartment, came straight from an interior designer’s catalogue. The large, rectangular area was dominated by a red-leather settee and studded armchairs. Against the far wall, next to the bar, stood a bookcase replete with leather-bound volumes of Shakespeare, Dickens and Burns while, on the opposite side of the room, Anne’s collection of nineteenth century porcelain figurines stared out disdainfully from their custom-built display cabinet.

There were no curtains in the lounge. As the flat was situated on the top floor of Dalgleish Tower, there was no need. From the floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows there was normally a magnificent view north, across the city, towards the Campsie Hills, but this bleak, February morning all Michael could see was dirty, grey sleet buffeting the glass, pinned against the window by the force of the northerly gale. He stopped and listened when he heard an unaccustomed noise – a high-pitched whine. It took him a moment to realise it was the howl of the wind. It was the first time he’d heard anything through the double-glazing.

Michael stared into the black void, fascinated by the shadowy shapes oozing across the outside of the pane; coursing rivulets of ice whipped upwards by the funnelling wind and back-lit eerily by the street lamps far below. As he watched, transfixed, swirling images formed, then melted away in the ever-changing patterns. Suddenly he saw two cold, blue eyes staring at him from the other side of the glass; unblinking eyes, locking onto his. His mouth went completely dry. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand proud. He wanted to look away but he couldn’t deflect his gaze. He felt panic building up. The palms of his hands turned clammy. Pressure was mounting inside his skull.

‘McFarlane,’ he mouthed. He tried to close his eyes to block out the image but, as in his nightmare, he found himself incapable of doing so. His eyelids seemed to be held open by some unseen force. His heart was thumping against his rib cage as the staring eyes grew larger and larger but, despite his anxiety, he realised there was something different. At first he didn’t know what it was – then it struck him. The scarred face wasn’t there – only the piercing blue eyes. When he focussed on the fine eyebrows he realised he wasn’t gazing into McFarlane’s eyes. These were Anne’s eyes – the same pale blue. He’d never before made the connection.

As suddenly as it had appeared, the image exploded in front of his face, disintegrating in a puff of whiteness as a fresh torrent of snow slammed against the window. Michael looked away and
blinked several times. His whole body was trembling. Although dreading the eyes re-appearing, something compelled him to peer again into the inky blackness. For a fleeting moment he thought he saw Anne’s face looming in the shadows but before he could focus on her features, they dissolved in a grey, amorphous mass that slithered down the pane.

Michael swallowed hard, his mind in turmoil. What was happening to him? His recurrent nightmare was now invading his waking consciousness. Was he cracking up?

When Philippa Scott emerged from the bathroom she was swaddled in Michael’s towelling dressing gown, her long, auburn hair swept back from her lightly-freckled face and turbaned in a bath towel. Tall and slim, she had a narrow face with high cheekbones and a slightly retroussé nose. Her eyebrows, plucked to the point of being non-existent, gave full emphasis to her large, turquoise eyes. Her skin was bright and clear and she was wearing no make-up. She exuded self-confidence. Although only twenty-four, she was one of the most gifted lawyers Michael had ever hired.

Philippa stopped in the lounge doorway and stared, tight-lipped, at Michael’s back. He sensed her presence but didn’t turn round. Without a word she swept on down the corridor and into the kitchen. Cutting two thin slices of brown bread, she popped them into the toaster before switching on the coffee machine.

Michael’s head was thumping as he followed her into the kitchen. ‘I’ve apologised, Pippa,’ he said. ‘What more can I do?’

‘You can leave her,’ she retorted petulantly. ‘That’s what more you can do.’

‘I’ve told you a dozen times, I will leave her.’

‘That is precisely the problem, Michael. You
have
told me a dozen times that you’ll leave Anne, but you never do a damned thing about it. There’s always some reason or other why you can’t break the news to her. Well I’m not prepared to go on like this any longer. I’ve had a year of lunchtime assignations at my flat and the occasional weekend here. That’s not enough. It has to be all or nothing.’

‘Okay, Pippa.’ Michael hesitated. ‘I was giving it a lot of thought yesterday. I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to tell Anne tonight.’

Philippa’s mood changed instantly, her surly expression evaporating and her eyes positively sparkling as she clasped her fingers to her face. ‘That’s fantastic!’ Squealing with delight she ran across the kitchen and threw her arms around his neck, clashing their lips together and thrusting her tongue deep inside his mouth. Michael responded by intertwining their tongues and slipping his hand inside her dressing gown.

‘And you can cut that out for a start.’ She giggled as she twisted from his grasp and pushed him away. ‘I don’t know what your schedule’s like today, Mr Gibson,’ she said coyly, ‘but I’ve got a meeting with a very important client at ten o’clock and it’ll take me half an hour to dry my hair and get ready.’

Without warning she launched herself at him again, laughing hysterically as she grabbed him round the waist and waltzed him dizzily round the kitchen until they crashed into the table. She held on to him tightly to steady her spinning head as she ran her fingernails sensually up and down his spine. ‘But you can come round to my place this evening,’ she panted, gnawing hungrily at his ear lobe. ‘After you’ve had your chat with Anne.’

Michael held her close. ‘You can be a right little minx at times,’ he said with a wry smile, kissing her tenderly on the forehead before releasing her from his grip. Sitting down at the table, Philippa spread marmalade on her toast and poured out two mugs of coffee.

‘Talking of schedules, God only knows where I’m supposed to be this morning,’ Michael said. ‘I’d better call Sheila.’

Picking up the phone he dialled his office number. It was answered on the second ring; the smooth, cultured voice repeating the greeting he’d heard many times before.

‘Good morning. Gibson & Gibson – Mr Michael Gibson’s office – Sheila Thompson speaking. How can I help you?’

‘Sheila, it’s me. I’m running late. What’s the diary like?’

‘Let me see. You’ve got a meeting with Frank Whyte at nine to finalise the brief for the Madill case. The trial starts tomorrow and Mr Whyte’s defending for us. At ten-thirty Inspector Anderson is coming across to discuss the case with you. You’re playing squash with Tom Crosbie at eleven, then Madill and Frank Whyte have a meeting with you at half past twelve to finalise the defence.’

‘I won’t be able to get to the office before ten – and I haven’t had a chance to look at the Madill papers. I brought the file home with me on Friday but I haven’t even had time to open my briefcase.’ Michael winked at Philippa. ‘It’s been non-stop all weekend.’

Philippa spluttered over a mouthful of coffee. Michael shook his fist in mock annoyance as he put his hand over the mouthpiece to try to avoid Sheila hearing the female laughter.

‘Okay, Sheila. Tell Whyte to discuss the options for Madill’s defence with Peter Davies – he knows the score. Schedule both of them to see me at ten o’clock to brief me on their recommendations. Keep the meeting with Anderson at ten-thirty – I don’t want to ruffle his feathers. Cancel the squash – I couldn’t face it. Leave the meeting with Madill and Whyte at twelve-thirty.’

‘Very good, Mr Gibson.’

‘What do I have this afternoon?’

‘This is the second Monday of the month, so normally you would be going up to Crighton Hall. But with the weather being like this…?’

Michael paused to consider. ‘If it’s at all possible, I’ll go. Leave it like that for now. I’ll see what the weather’s like in the afternoon. What else is there?’

‘You’ve got two meetings later on. At four o’clock you’re reviewing the promotion plan with Peter Davies and at six you’ve got a session with Ellen McMillan to discuss who should handle the Convery case.’

‘I don’t want to go back to the office this afternoon. Could those meetings be rescheduled?’

‘I suppose so.’ Sheila sounded dubious. ‘But you have already deferred Mr Davies three times. The promotion plan should’ve been finalised last month.’

‘You’re right.’ Michael sighed audibly. ‘I can’t put him off again. He was spitting blood the last time. Tell you what. Leave the slot with Davies at four but re-schedule the six o’clock meeting to later in the week. Anne’ll be home around six-thirty this evening and I need to be here when she arrives.’

‘Yes, Mr Gibson.’

‘My father always said Sheila was worth her weight in gold,’ Michael said as he replaced the receiver. ‘Efficiency personified. No fuss, no hassle.’ He picked up the coffee pot and waved it in Philippa’s direction. ‘Fancy another cup?’

Philippa shook her head as she finished off her toast. ‘No, thanks. I really must get ready.’

‘I’ll grab a quick shower and we can leave together.’

As Philippa walked from the kitchen, Brutus padded in languidly. Fixing his stare on Michael, he jumped up onto the table and started miaowing noisily. Michael lifted him off and put him back down on the floor. ‘Bloody nuisance,’ he muttered. ‘First you land me in the shit – then you expect me to feed you.’

Opening the cupboard beneath the sink, he took a tin of cat food from the shelf and tugged open the ring-pull, forking the contents into a bowl. Brutus’s tail stiffened as he followed Michael down the hall towards one of the guest bedrooms. Michael placed the bowl on the floor, between the sleeping basket and the litter tray, and Brutus greedily devoured the contents, purring contentedly.

Michael adjusted the temperature of the shower until it was as hot as his skin could bear. He closed his eyes and, as the water poured down his body, he tried to rehearse how he would break the news to Anne. He was dreading the confrontation. He’d been close to broaching the subject several times during the past couple of months but had always ducked the issue. Tonight, he knew he’d have to go through with it.

His thoughts drifted back to their university days, when he and Anne had met and fallen in love. It seemed such a distant memory. The early years of their marriage had been blissful with hardly a cross word – until they started bickering over how to deal with Paul’s behavioural problems. Things had never been the same after that.

His relationship with Pippa was totally different. This wasn’t just a casual fling. Every day for the past year he’d become more and more besotted with her. She was like a drug to him. He needed to be with her all the time. He realised he’d have to leave Anne in order to keep her, but he knew Anne wasn’t going to accept that without a fight.

When he’d finished showering, Michael stropped his razor before shaving. He found the ritual therapeutic. He’d used the same ivory-handled, cut-throat blade since he’d first started shaving. Several times he’d tried to switch to an electric razor because wet shaving was so time-consuming, but no matter which one he tried it brought his skin out in a rash.

Lathering his face, he peered short-sightedly at his reflection in the steamed-up bathroom mirror. The dark-grey bags under his eyes and the heavy jowls were now permanent features – as were the puffy, bloodshot eyes – ever since the headaches had started. He knew he should have been to see a doctor months ago, but his fear of the diagnosis outweighed the pain of the headaches.

Michael shaved quickly, his practised hand running the blade over his skin without once nicking the flesh. When he’d finished, he splashed his face with cold water and then with the Azzaro after-shave Philippa had given him for Christmas, catching his breath and wincing from the astringent sting. Having squeezed toothpaste onto his electric toothbrush, he brushed vigorously before rinsing out his mouth. Yawning and stretching, he wandered back to the bedroom.

The motif of the sparsely furnished room was Charles Rennie Mackintosh, designed around the wide double bed and the reproduction bedside tables. The decor was black-and-white throughout,
apart from the dressing table, also a reproduction in the Rennie Mackintosh style, carved from mahogany and inlaid with satinwood. The walls were lined with white fabric, a suitably neutral backcloth for the two Rennie Mackintosh watercolours that hung on the wall facing the bed.

Michael went through his customary routine of covering up the evidence of Philippa’s visit; smoothing the sheet at Anne’s side of the bed and plumping up her pillow, then emptying the contents of the waste bin in the bathroom into a plastic carrier bag.

He often wondered about Anne. Did she ever have affairs? If so, she’d never given herself away. To the best of his knowledge, she’d never brought a man back to their house when they’d lived in Bearsden, nor to Dalgleish Tower. But did she really go to Aberdeen every month? And if so, did she always stay overnight at her parents’ cottage? Perhaps she had a secret assignation on the way there or on the way back? When she went on tour with her amateur dramatic society, was she never involved in anything more exhilarating than theatre production, make-up and costume design? And her bridge congresses – did people
really
take the ferry across to Rothesay and spend the weekend in a hotel – just to play bridge?

Crossing to the wardrobe, Michael selected one of six identical white shirts hanging on the rail. He rejected his blue cashmere suit as the waistband was getting uncomfortably tight. He had always prided himself in keeping fit – jogging regularly and playing squash several times a week. However, during the past six months, since the headaches had started, he’d taken little exercise and had put on almost a stone in weight, most of it around the midriff. Having decided on the more generous-fitting, grey pin-stripe, he selected a matching silk tie and a pair of highly-polished black shoes.

When he’d dressed, he returned to the bathroom and combed his hair carefully in front of the mirror. Although he’d never considered tinting his hair, his vanity was such that he still tried to hide the grey flecks.

Picking up the empty champagne flutes from the bedside tables, he carried them through to the kitchen and tipped the dregs down the sink. He washed and dried the glasses, along with Philippa’s coffee mug and plate and put them away in the cupboard, then put his own coffee mug into the dishwasher. He dropped the champagne bottle, along with the empty red-wine bottle, into his carrier bag and left it by the front door to take down to the dustbin on his way out.

Slumping down at the kitchen table, he switched on Radio Scotland to catch the news headlines while waiting for Philippa to emerge.

Just after nine-thirty they descended together in the lift, Philippa impeccably dressed in a white silk blouse, a tight black mini-skirt and matching jacket, her auburn locks cascading down her back almost to her waist. She was carrying her overnight bag and her briefcase.

When the lift doors slid open in the underground garage, Michael dropped the carrier bag into the nearest dustbin, then stopped in his tracks. His Mercedes was missing and in its place stood a Ford transit van, painted in psychedelic colours, with the motif
Citizens Band
daubed in bright blue letters across the side.

‘I’ll throttle him!’

‘What happened?’

‘Paul came round here yesterday afternoon while you were out shopping and cadged fifty quid because he was broke.’

‘You’ve given him a job, for goodness sake. And, I suppose, a half-decent salary. Why does he need to cadge off you?’

‘I don’t know. He seems to be broke most of the time.’ Michael shook his head. ‘God knows what he does with his money. Then he asked to borrow my car for the evening to impress his new girlfriend. Apparently his
Citizens Band
van isn’t the thing to be seen in on a first date.’

Philippa burst out laughing. ‘I can see his point. I don’t think I’d fancy going out with someone in that heap.’

‘I told him he could have the Merc on condition he brought it back before eight o’clock this morning. That’s the last bloody time I’ll ever let him borrow my car.’

‘Don’t be such an old fuddy-duddy. He probably had more important things on his mind last night than bringing your car back. Remember what it was like when you were young?’ Philippa smirked. ‘Jump in. I’ll give you a lift to the office.’

Michael shook his head. ‘It’s too risky. Someone might see us together.’

‘Hardly any great risk,’ Philippa pouted, ‘considering that you’re going to tell Anne tonight that you’re leaving her.’

Michael ignored her comment. ‘I can take Anne’s car.’ He nodded towards the black Volvo in the adjacent parking bay. ‘She went up to Aberdeen by train on Friday. She didn’t want to risk driving because the weather was so lousy. I’ll have to nip back upstairs to get the spare key.’

‘Have it your own way.’ Philippa flung her bag and her briefcase onto the passenger seat of her red Peugeot 207 GTi. Wiggling her hips provocatively, she slid her tight skirt up her thighs before clambering in behind the wheel. She lowered her driver’s window as she fired the engine. ‘I may bump into you at the office this morning, Mr Gibson. If not, I’ll be waiting for you at my place tonight with the champagne on ice. We’ll have a special celebration.’ She winked. ‘Just the two of us – after you’ve had your chat with Anne.’

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