Authors: Allan Guthrie
His eyes wandered to the corner table where the girl with the mini-skirt was drinking with some friends. Her head rolled back as she laughed. It felt as if a small stone was lodged in his throat. Quickly, he averted his gaze. He wondered what Dotty was doing. Pity she'd decided not to join him. She'd stood there in his bedroom staring at her chest, twiddling a button on her cardigan. "It's not a good idea," she said without looking up.
Her quietly spoken words were a slap in the face. For a moment, he felt dazed.
Her head bobbed up and down. Her mouth turned down at the sides.
He wanted to stride forward and envelop her in his arms. Instead he said, "A wise decision." Pursing his lips, he nodded.
She nodded back at him.
He held out his hand and she took it. They shook. Then he spoiled what could have been a dignified rejection by saying, "Sure you don't fancy the wee drive to the airport?"
Her eyes turned towards the floor. He felt her gaze on his feet and felt uncomfortable. "Of course, no, of course you don't. Dotty," he said, holding Gemma's diary aloft, as eager to change the topic of conversation as he was to get at the truth of Gemma's assault, "there's a passage in here I'd like you to look at. I need your opinion, if you can bear to read it. It's about Gemma's father. Perhaps. I'm not sure."
She looked at him with liquid-filled puppy eyes. "Okay."
"Might take me a moment to find it. Would you tell me what you think it means?"
Her words were a whisper. "Thank you."
He didn't understand why she was thanking him. What did she have to be grateful for? He sighed and began turning the pages. "There," he said, after a while. "There it is." He held the diary towards her.
She took the book from him. "Here?" She pointed to the passage.
He was silent while she read. When she finished, she said, "What do you want to know?"
Adam blinked. He swallowed. He cleared his throat. "Who she's talking about."
"Well," she said, "Gemma was…" She closed her mouth and her chin dimpled. After a moment she said, "The man refers to himself as Daddy." She was quiet again. Her hand went to her mouth and she spoke through slightly parted fingers. "But that doesn't necessarily make him her father. He might be role playing. Getting his kicks from pretending he's her father."
Adam prized the diary from Dotty's fingers and flicked forward through the book. "Here," he said. "I'll read this to you. Only a couple of sentences, but they don't make sense. She says:
I know I can never tell the truth. I couldn't cope with sending Daddy to prison.
" He pointed to the page he'd just read.
"You're like a child sometimes," Dotty said.
"For Christ's sake!" Instantly, he wished he hadn't spoken. He'd sounded hostile.
"I meant that in a nice way." She looked at the floor. "I like children."
"Don't know that many," Adam said. After a second he added, "But those I've met have been nice enough."
Dotty shuffled her feet. She raised her head slightly. "That passage in the diary," she said. "Gemma didn't want her father to know what happened because she was scared he'd kill the man who raped her. That's what she means about sending him to prison."
Adam slowly closed the diary. "Perfectly obvious." He nodded his head. "Now that you've pointed it out."
Dotty said, "Can I go now?"
He glanced at her. She was evidently upset. He wished he hadn't reacted badly to being called a child. She hadn't intended any criticism. "I'm sorry for putting you through all this." She shook her head and turned her cheek towards him. It took him a moment to accept her unspoken invitation. He placed his hand on her shoulder and she leaned towards him. He held her. She started to shake. He dropped the diary on the floor and wrapped his other arm around her. Instantly, his neck was wet with her tears.
"I'm sorry if I behaved like a child," he said.
Dotty didn't reply. They stood like that for a long time. Adam would have stayed like that for a lot longer. But she left. Hurriedly. Darting across the room and out the door.
His flight had left early the next morning. He saw her for five minutes at breakfast and before he knew it he was in Edinburgh and Dotty was hundreds of miles away.
His phone was lying on the table next to his glass of water. He thought about calling her. His eyes swept the bar. The girl in the black mini-skirt was struggling back to her table with a couple of pint glasses, a clear drink in a shot glass and a small bottle of orange. The high heels didn't help. She had good legs. Her calf muscles bunched nicely with each step. Just imagine those tanned thighs are Dotty's. Just imagine them gripping your waist. All of a sudden she stopped. He looked up and realized she was staring at him. He wanted to look away but his eyes were glued to hers. "You want to get down on your knees and take a closer look?" she said.
"No," he said, knowing the question was rhetorical but feeling compelled to answer it all the same. "No," he repeated.
When she moved away, he realized he should have denied that he was staring at her. He no longer felt like phoning Dotty. He had the sensation that all the eyes in the bar were focussed on him. His face was hot. He gulped down his drink and then dared look up. No one was interested in him. Apart from the boy in the suit gazing at him from the doorway. Looked too young to get served. He started heading this way.
Adam buried his head in his newspaper.
Seconds later he heard a voice say, "
Drinking mineral water out of a brandy glass. You must be Adam Wright."
Adam lowered his newspaper. Surely not. He was far too young. "Mr. Brewer?"
"Thank you for agreeing to see me, Mr. Park."
The hitman's handshake was firm. "If you'll excuse me for a second," he said. "You'll need some privacy." He walked over to the window and pulled the curtains. The room darkened. He switched on the table lamp. "I must ask you to remove your clothes."
"Mr. Park," Joe said. "I didn't think I was your type."
"If you don't remove your clothes, Mr. Hope, we have nothing to discuss."
"Can I ask why you want me to undress?" Was this an exercise in humiliation? Carlos had managed to persuade Park to agree to the meeting and Joe knew he ought to be grateful. But now that he was closeted in a hotel room with the hitman, Joe didn't feel an ounce of gratitude. The weirdo wanted him to remove his clothes.
"I'd like to know you're not wearing a wire. Or hiding a weapon."
"You don't trust me?"
"Not in the least."
"I really don't want to take—"
"Good day, Mr. Hope. Don't forget to pay the room bill at reception on your way out."
Joe shook his head and filled his cheeks with air. He let the air out with an exaggerated puff. He smacked his lips together. They felt crusty. "Why don't you just search me, Mr. Park?"
A bloody striptease, then, if that's what he wanted. Park sat on the bed, eyeing Joe's every move. Painfully, Joe slipped his jumper over his head. Folded it. Placed it on the room's solitary chair. He did the same with his t-shirt. Then he bent down, ribs protesting, untied his shoelaces, kicked off one shoe, then the other. His socks smelled pretty bad. He hoped Park got a whiff. He removed them and tucked them in his shoes. He undid his trouser belt, the button, then pulled down the zip. He slid his trousers down and stepped out of them. Slowly, he folded his trousers and added them to the pile of clothes in the chair. Wearing only his boxer shorts, he looked at Park.
Park gesticulated with his fingers.
"Come on," Joe said. "You seriously think I have a wire down my pants? Maybe you should check up my arse."
Park looked thoughtful. Then he said, "I don't think that'll be necessary."
Joe turned his back and tugged his boxers off. "Okay?" He heard Park get to his feet. He could sense the bastard behind him. For a second, he imagined Park really was going to bend him over so he could inspect his backside. But he didn't. Park disappeared into the adjoining bathroom with Joe's clothes and re-emerged, minus the clothes but with a hotel bathrobe, which he handed to Joe. Joe offered Park his boxers in return. Park shook his head. Joe looked around and dropped his underwear on the chair. He shrugged into the robe and turned to face the hitman.
"I can't tell you anything, Mr. Hope," Park said. "You do know that, don't you? I know you're aware of the nature of my professional activities as an expurgator through our mutual acquaintance Mr. Cooper. I'm sure you understand that I can't discuss that. If you came here for information, you're wasting your time."
"Why did you agree to see me?"
"You know the score. And your, what shall we call it,
"I don't want information." Joe toyed with the belt on his robe. Park wasn't as clever as he thought he was. Joe could yank the belt out of the robe and strangle him with it. Easy.
Park said, "What, then?"
Joe sighed and tied the belt on his robe. The robe smelled fresh.
"I'll give it to you straight, Mr. Park. Maybe you should sit down."
Park sat on the bed. "Ah," he said, as if in sudden pain. He opened his jacket and Joe saw a gun tucked down the front of his trousers. Park eased it out and laid it on the bed beside him. Just as well Joe hadn't decided to strangle him.
There was nowhere for Joe to sit but he felt awkward standing. After a moment's hesitation he sat on top of his boxers. He crossed his legs at the ankles. "I want to offer you a job." Park said nothing. Joe waited a while and then said, "I want you to kill the person who murdered my wife."
Park started to laugh.
Joe let him carry on, for a while. "Well?"
"You get a blow on the head as well as in the ribs?"
Park tapped his fingers against his forehead. "So, perhaps you should tell me who that is."
"I'm afraid you're mistaken, Mr. Hope. Perhaps you should leave."
"You were there."
Park picked up the gun. "Grief does strange things to a person. You're not thinking clearly."
"You don't want the money? I thought you were a professional."
Park made a clicking noise with his tongue. "As you say, Mr. Hope. I am a professional." He lowered the gun. Kept his hand on it.
"So? Will you do it?"
"Explain something to me, Mr. Hope. If you believe I was in some way involved in your wife's demise, why don't you want to kill me?"
"Did I give that impression?"
Joe's heart was beating furiously beneath his bathrobe.
"So what's this charade about?" Park said.
"You're a pawn. You're insignificant."
"I am? Tell me who I have to kill."
"Fundamental part of the operation, knowing who the target is."
"You already know."
Park laughed again. "Mr. Hope, why don't you get in touch with me again when you are aware of the facts. It'll make the job a lot easier when I know who you want me to kill."
"If I do," Joe said, "will you do it?"
"Can you pay?"
"I just inherited a bundle."
"Which you won't get if you're found guilty of your wife's murder."
"True. If I can't prove I'm innocent I won't get the money and I won't be able to hire you so you won't get any money either. What are we talking here, Mr. Park? Fifty grand? A hundred?"
"The second figure's closer."
"Think about it," Joe said. "Can I get dressed now?"
Park stood and stuffed the gun back in his waistband. He went into the bathroom and returned with Joe's clothes. "If you discover the killer's identity, be sure to let me know."
Joe put on his boxers. He took off the robe and let it fall on the floor. "What about you? The prospect of a hundred grand might jog your memory."
"There's nothing to jog."
"Just in case, I'll give you my lawyer's phone number. You got a pen? I might be hard to get hold of for the next little while."
"No need for a pen," Park said. "Just tell me the number. My memory's flawless."
The girl in the black mini-skirt gave Adam a hard stare as she left the pub. He breathed a sigh of relief.
"Give the diary to me." The lawyer drank a mouthful of coffee. "I'll make sure he gets it." His coffee had arrived in a glass with a handle, looking like vanilla and chocolate ice cream. Even had a long spoon like the Knickerbocker Glories Adam used to love as a kid.
Adam said, "It's for Joe's eyes only."
"What's so special about it?"
Adam swilled what remained of the water in his brandy glass. The fizz had all but disappeared. "That's personal."
"Mr. Wright, I'm aware of the incident at your establishment in Orkney. Are you still angry at Mr. Hope? Is this about revenge? You still think he killed Ruth? Is that the real reason you want to see him?"