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Authors: Gordon Ferris

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BOOK: Pilgrim Soul
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My third thought was to wonder what Galdakis was hiding.

NINE

Sandy nabbed me as I walked past his glass-windowed office at the entrance to the newsroom. It faced Eddie Paton’s office, so that between them they could cudgel or caress the reporters as we came and went. Sending us over the top in search of a scoop and bandaging us up on our return, mauled from the front line.

‘How did it go, Brodie?’ Sandy asked me.

I told him. He looked at me for a while and shook his head.

‘I think we’ll not mention the small fact that you put the heid on him, Brodie. Ever since you joined us – and I’m not necessarily saying you’re the
cause
– it’s been mayhem around here.’

‘It’s the nature of the job. If you want a crime column you’re going to have to consort with criminals. They’re not nice people.’

‘Are you saying this fella, Galdakis, is a criminal?’

‘He killed a man. OK, it was a thief. But this wasn’t self-defence. He butchered him.’

Sandy nodded. ‘Look, write it up and we’ll see what we can make of it. Drop it in, and I’ll peruse it. Then finish off the story by having a wee chat with the pawnbroker.’

‘McGill?’

‘It started with him. It should end with him.’

‘That’s tricky, Sandy. Duncan Todd isn’t pressing charges. He prefers McGill on the outside. Finds him useful.’

‘Go and see him anyway. We want colour. Maybe he’s feeling remorse. Somebody should.’ He shook his long head. ‘Aboot something.’

I wrote up my encounter with the angry knifeman without mentioning that the author had given the interviewee a Gorbals kiss. It might put off other people from being interviewed by me in future. My reputation was colourful enough.

I decided to leave my interview with McGill to the following day. It turned out to be a day too late.

I had a restless night and was glad Sam had opted for her own room. My nightmares were bad enough company for me. Sam’s announcement that she was off to the Hamburg trials had picked the scab off some of my more troubling memories.

I woke groggy. Thursday morning began in confusion and descended into chaos. Sam had packed the night before and was ready for the taxi that would take her to Central Station and then down to Euston. From there she’d be taken to RAF Hendon for the military flight to Hamburg.

‘I’ll be back in no time.’

‘For Christmas.’

‘You can start getting the decorations up.’

There was a knock at the door.

‘Your taxi’s early,’ I said. Why was my heart suddenly pounding? It wasn’t me going. I opened the door. A woman stood on the step.

‘Hello,’ she said.

Sam called from behind. ‘Oh, Isobel, it’s you! It’s lovely to see you again. Come in, come in. Douglas, this is Isobel Dunlop.’

I’d forgotten about the new cleaner. Jutting shoulders on a wiry frame, a hook for a nose. A sparrowhawk whose piercing grey eyes were already taking X-rays of my guilty relationship with Sam.

‘Good morning, Miss Campbell. And this would be your lodger, Mr Brodie?’ Her accent was Highland. Tomintoul indeed. I now knew her mother had worked for Sam’s parents and the two girls had played together as they grew up.

‘Och, Izzie, don’t you go all formal on me. I’m still Sam. Give me a hug.’ The two embraced. ‘It’s been ages. I’m so sorry about your mum,’ Sam said.

‘Aye, well. We all have our time. You’re looking well, Sam. A bit skinny for my liking, but otherwise . . .’

‘You’re a fine one to talk. There’s not a pick on you. I’m going to commission some of your famous broths for the pair of us. When I get back, that is. I’m sorry about rushing off like this.’

‘Never you worry. I’ll have the place sparkling for when you get back.’

They’d edged into the hall so that when the doorknocker clacked again, the three of us jumped.

‘That’ll be the taxi this time. Oh, goodness. I’m not ready for this.’ Sam’s face was red. Mine felt hot too. I wasn’t ready for this either. And how were we to say farewell? A big kiss from the lodger in front of the housekeeper?

We fumbled through goodbyes by my carrying her case out to the waiting taxi and handing her into it. Her eyes registered something like panic. Mine should have shown a manly determination to be bright and breezy. But she saw the anxiety behind it.

‘It’ll be all right, Douglas.’

‘Of course it will. Phone me when you get there.’

She leaned forward before I closed the door and kissed me lightly.

‘Be nice to Izzie,’ were her last words.

I went back inside and could hear Isobel Dunlop already attacking the top floor with a hoover. It was fine. We needed some curb on the dust piles. And Sam would only be gone for just over three weeks. Three weeks, three days. I’d survive, though I might have come down with the flu if my hot flushes were any indication.

I went up to my room. I sat on the edge of my bed until the sweating stopped and my breath came more easily. This wouldn’t do. I flannelled my face and body, put on a tie and gathered my jacket. A notion struck me. I went over to the sideboard. I pulled aside my socks and took out a box. I pushed aside my campaign medals and picked up my old cap badge of the Seaforths. I rubbed it against my lapel and thrust it into my left jacket pocket.

I set off for the Western. I swam my morning lengths and, rejuvenated, headed towards the
Gazette
. Might as well call in on McGill’s on my way. It was just past nine as I turned into Bath Street. There was already a crowd round the pawnbroker’s. A bit early to be needing a wee borrow, surely? Then I realised that a number of the crowd were wearing uniforms. A squad car stood outside. My mouth went dry. I quickened my pace, feeling my stomach muscles tense.

A constable was blocking the door, and I could see others milling about inside. A familiar head turned round and saw me. A spasm warped his face. He raised his eyebrows and shook his head as if in weariness. He came to the door.

‘Did you
smell
this, Brodie? Or did you happen to
know
something about this?’

‘Good morning to you, Detective Chief Inspector Sangster. It’s good to see you. I might be able to answer one of your questions if I knew what
this
is.’

Sangster sighed, ‘Let him in,’ to the constable.

I followed him inside. The Luftwaffe couldn’t have done a better job. Or a bull. There was hardly a display unit left standing. My feet crunched on broken glass and pottery. The carefully stacked piles of junk were tumbled together like flotsam after a deluge.

‘Stock-taking?’ I asked.

Sangster sighed again. ‘Spare me your wit, Brodie. Through the back.’

A uniformed officer stood by the door behind the counter. I hesitated. I didn’t need this. I’d had enough. I started towards him, knowing what I’d find. The officer moved aside. Lying sprawled on the floor was McGill. He was as smashed up as his store. His head was partly severed. The great gaping wound in his throat still wept blood. Behind, on the wall, a safe door stood open. The safe was empty. An officer was dabbing at it for fingerprints.

‘So, Brodie, what extraordinary coincidence brings you and this pair wee man thegither?’

There was a crunch behind us. ‘Ah think Ah can answer that, sir.’ Inspector Duncan Todd joined us.

Sangster narrowed his eyes. ‘Now Ah’m really worried. What the hell brings you here, Todd?’

‘Ah jist heard about this at Albany Street, sir. Brodie and I had been talking about McGill the other day.’

‘Oh aye, and why would that be? What are you twa up to?’

I stepped forward. ‘I was following a lead, Sangster. Some of your Jewish parishioners were being burgled and you weren’t taking their calls. They asked me to take a look. Inspector Todd suggested I had a word with McGill here. I came here on Monday. I found McGill had acquired a number of the missing items and that he’d bought them from a certain Paddy Craven.’

Sangster’s face whitened. ‘Craven! Who got knifed the other day?’

‘Tuesday, sir. In a burglary that went wrong,’ said Duncan.

Sangster looked from one of us to the other, wondering where to start.

‘Jesus, Brodie, can you no’ lea’ the polis stuff to us?’

‘I’m a reporter. It’s what I do.’

‘So what’s your reporter’s theory about this then?’ He indicated the bleeding body of poor McGill.

‘McGill has a place upstairs. Somebody got in, forced him down here to open the safe, and cut his throat to shut him up?’

‘Who?’

‘Well, we know it wasn’t Paddy Craven getting his own back for McGill clyping on him,’ I said.

Duncan said, ‘Maybe Craven was working with someone else? And they took the hump?’

‘Or McGill knew something or someone else involved in the thieving?’ I suggested.

‘You huvnae written about McGill for the paper?’

‘I was about to. It’s now a job for the obituary boys.’

We tried a few other formulae, but without any evidence we might as well have blamed Jack the Ripper.

A little later, Duncan and I stepped outside, leaving Sangster to it. We began walking towards the city centre.

‘Anything you’re not telling me, Brodie?’

‘Only that we’ve grabbed a bit of string and found a tiger on the end of it.’

TEN

It was a long day. I waited by the phone until past midnight. My worries piled up. A train derailment? A plane crash? The morning Royal Scot should have got in by four thirty. Sam was to be whisked up to Hendon and flown to Hamburg on the evening military flight, which got in around nine o’clock our time.

By midnight my anxiety had turned to anger. I was furious at the world. Another rotten trick. Finding her, making me fall for her and then wresting her from me. Laughing at our mortal antics. Slapstick clowns on life’s stage. I paced up and down like a madman, throwing back the Johnnie Walker and smoking till my throat was raw. I forced myself to pick up a book. I had no idea what I was reading.

The phone jolted me from my doze at one thirty. I leaped out of the armchair, knocking my book to the floor. I stumbled downstairs and grabbed the phone.

‘Sam?’

‘Thank you, caller. Please go ahead.’ The cold, international operator’s voice was replaced by hers. Distant and tinny.

‘Douglas? Can you hear me? It’s me. Sorry. Sorry. Just got here. Gales over the North Sea. I feel like I’ve been on one of those big dippers at the shows.’

For a moment I couldn’t speak. ‘I was that worried. Are you OK?’

‘Wabbit. But I’m in my hotel. Iain met me and we’re getting down to it tomorrow. The real thing starts next week.’

We talked some more, but I heard the weariness in her voice and let her go. I didn’t mention McGill’s death. Two murders in a week didn’t make for a social call.

Three weeks two days.

I drifted through the weekend, trying not to hit the bottle too early. I even went to the pictures on Saturday for diversion.
The Big Sleep
with Bacall and Bogie. It left me wishing I had some of Marlowe’s luck with women, not to mention solving murders.

Sitting in the dark by myself, I was a wee boy again, in the Plaza or Regal, mouth gawping, staring up at the huge flashing screen on a Saturday morning. The minors’ matinee. For years I thought it was only for kids of miners like my dad. Each school week dragged by until at last I was running, with threepence hot in my hand, down the Bonnyton Road to the High Street. Jostling with my pals in the queue. Buying an ice lolly for a penny.

On into my teens, watching grown-up pictures. Transfixed by other lives, other trajectories; the impossible glamour and sophisticated drawl of Clark Gable, Garbo, Joan Crawford. The canyons of New York, an open-top Chevy Speedster under blue California skies. How did I end up pounding the beat in Glasgow when the Wild West beckoned? My life choices always seemed to be a response rather than a calculated decision.

Sam phoned me on Sunday evening sounding in better spirits but complaining about the cold. Her hotel was by a frozen lake near the centre of Hamburg.

‘I should have brought my mother’s old fur, Douglas. I’d wear it to bed.’

‘Now there’s an image to leave me with . . .’

On the Monday after the slaughter of Craven and McGill, another random piece of jigsaw landed on the board with a thump. The piece, in the shape of a distraught young woman, turned up at the newsroom. I could see her talking to one of the secretaries: Morag Duffy. Morag pranced over to my desk. She made sure that her left hand hung over my filing cabinet – casually. On her ring finger a tiny gem emitted a faint light on a gold band. For a while back in the spring, when Sam and I weren’t talking and I was slumming it in a bedsit, I’d been winching Morag. She was young and bonny and fun, but I couldn’t shake my interest in someone more challenging. Love makes us idiots.

Morag had sought refuge from my callous spurning of her affections by taking up with a policeman: the brave sergeant who’d comforted her in the newsroom after the assault by the Glasgow Marshals. She was to become Mrs Murdoch on St Valentine’s Day. I wondered if the blushing bridegroom had had any say in the matter. Morag had her entire life planned out, right down to the pattern of her net curtains.

‘There’s a woman asking for you. She’s in tears.’ She meant:
You’ve done it again, Brodie, you’ve broken another poor lassie’s heart. But look at me: I couldnae care less
. The daft thing is that her blatant display got to me. I felt a pang of jealousy. I’d traded in – so to speak – Morag’s curvy enthusiasm for an uncertain relationship and a pair of adamantine eyes.

‘Who is she, Morag?’

‘She wouldnae gie her name. Said it was
personal
.’ It was amazing how much innuendo Morag could put into one word.

‘Is the wee conference room free? Can you show her in there, please.’

I gave it a minute, got the nod from Morag across the room, and headed for the room. I found a woman sitting at the table clasping and unclasping her hands, as though washing them. She twisted at a wedding ring. She was small and plain, her brown hair mostly hidden under a green Paisley scarf. Late twenties perhaps. Her face was stricken, her dark eyes rubbed red.

BOOK: Pilgrim Soul
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