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Authors: Gordon Ferris

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General

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BOOK: Pilgrim Soul
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I didn’t answer for a while. ‘You’re getting the worst of it,’ I said.

The two men had lived together as brothers. Yet their ties weren’t blood. The title was for convenience and propriety. A very queer relationship.

I told Sam about our visit that night when she called.

‘Douglas, if I ever end up doolally will you promise to push me off Ben Nevis?’

‘Will the top of Hope Street do? It might be all that I can manage.’

‘Just make it quick.’

‘Does that mean we’re going to grow old together?’ I broke into Burns:

‘John Anderson, my jo, John,

We clamb the hill thegither;

And mony a cantie day, John,

We’ve had wi’ ane anither:

Now we maun totter down, John,

And hand in hand we’ll go,

And sleep thegither at the foot,

John Anderson, my jo.’

‘Have you been at the poetry bottle again?’

We were heading rapidly towards Christmas and the turn of the year. It meant I was rising in the dark and going home in the dark to the great echoing house. We’d closed down all the rooms except the kitchen, one bathroom and my bedroom. My mind was closing down with it, room by room, as I tried to barricade myself off from the past. For sanity I kept up my morning swim though it was getting harder and harder to leave the quilt and face the cold plunge.

Sam was due back in seven days.

In my constant search for news stories I was patrolling the streets by the light of gas lamps in the mid-afternoon. Like a Dickensian ghost. Between restless nights and the cosy warmth of the newsroom, I found myself jolting awake at my desk at times. As though my brain had switched off, then on again.

Often enough the hunt for a column led me south of the Clyde. As we neared Christmas I noticed lit candles in some of the windows of tenements around South Portland Street. The soft glow threw the nine-branched menorah in clear silhouette against the net curtains. Isaac Feldmann had told me that only eight candles counted; the central or side one was the
shamash
– the servant – used to light the significant others. Each night the number of candles would grow by one. When I saw four lit in the window above Isaac’s shop I went in.

‘Happy Hanukkah, Isaac!’ I called out to the empty shop. I heard rustling from the back and at last he shambled out, muttering away until he saw me.

‘Ach, Douglas, thank you. You remembered it’s our Festival of Lights?’

‘You think I learned nothing from you and Hannah? I just wanted to wish you well.’

‘Thank you, thank you. You know that this year we light the eighth on Christmas Eve? Double blessings for all of us.’

‘Maybe it means we will be kinder to each other.’

‘Jews and Christians? Why not? We are all children of the book.’

‘Except the Orange Order and the Blackshirts.’

‘Even them, Douglas. Though they don’t know it. Is this a social call? Come. Have coffee. I have some real beans.’

‘You must have come into the money, Isaac.’

We sat in his back room, swaddled and muffled among the bales and shelves of cloth. The coffee was hot and sweet, and as different from Camp Coffee as a real egg from powder. It was the first time we’d met since my sleuthing and the murders.

‘They are still talking about you, Douglas. Some of them want to hire your services again. There is always something. A lost cat, a lost wife, lost money . . .’

‘I don’t do cats. And nobody can bring back a lost wife if she’s not willing.’

‘But they also talk about this man who killed the thief.’

‘Galdakis?’

‘Him. No one knows him. He just appeared about a year ago, they say. Money in his pocket. But he never comes to synagogue. At least not ours. They are not even sure he’s Jewish.’

‘Hmmm. He said he was, but he didn’t go to
shul
.’

‘You met him?’

I told Isaac about my run-in with him.

‘He is
bescheuert
,’ he said.

‘As we say around here, a total bampot. A malignant one.’

I found myself using the Hanukkah candles as a countdown to Sam’s return. When the sixth was lit – not counting the
shamash
– on the Sunday before Christmas, I was waiting up for her. She’d confirmed the night before but the weather was atrocious again. It was edging towards midnight when I heard a car draw up outside, a door slamming, a voice, and then short quick steps. I dashed down the stairs and was at the door to open it for her. I grabbed her case, flung it behind me and held out my arms. She gripped me like a lifebelt.

When I felt her muscles ease I pushed her back to see her face.

‘Sam, dearest, why are you crying?’

She couldn’t find the words, just buried her face in my chest and I felt her body heave as sobs crashed through her. Slowly she came to a halt and pushed herself back.

‘I seem to be rubbish at flying, Douglas.’

I stroked her hair and laughed. She laughed too and we left everything in the hall and went up to my room. My bed wasn’t cold but she was shivering for a long time until my body heat calmed her.

‘Bad, Sam?’

‘Bad. I thought I’d read enough, seen enough in
Pathé News
. I knew about what they’d done. But nothing prepared me for the reality.’

‘Nothing can.’

Next day was easier. She phoned Izzie to come round and the pair of them tackled a big wash, giggling like girls. It was good to hear her laughter from the wash-house. I left them to it and went into the newsroom.

When the clock hit five, I sprang for the door. Morag was holding the phone out to me. I shook my head and saw her deal with the caller. I elbowed my way past the rush of secretaries and dashed home. Sam was pale but already getting back to a version of her sparky self. We made tea of Izzie’s tattie soup, and had just adjourned to the lounge to take our first sip of the evening when the phone rang. I took it. It was Duncan.

‘Brodie, Ah think you should be here. You could maybe help.’

‘Where’s here, Duncan?’

‘Bedford Street.’

‘Galdakis?’

‘Aye, him, possibly. That’s why . . . Look, it disnae matter. Ah’m sure you’ve better things to do. Like washing your hair or listening to ITMA. You said Sam was due home. But . . .’

‘Duncan, I’m on my way.’

THIRTEEN

It took me twenty minutes to cross the city centre and get to the scene of the crime, for that’s what it was. The bobby barring the downstairs entry simply asked, ‘Mr Brodie?’ and let me through. I walked upstairs and paused at the door. It was wide open. The wood was splintered at the lock, smashed open. No gasman subtlety here.

I stepped inside. Duncan was pacing the front room, the room I hadn’t been in, which looked out on to the street. It had a hole-in-the-wall bed and a small kitchen. The room had been wrecked. Amidst the debris a familiar figure kneeled over the body spread-eagled in front of a cold fireplace.

‘Come ben, Brodie. Is this your man?’

My
man lay staring at the ceiling, heavy arms trailing above his head like a baby relaxing. But no one relaxes when they’re impaled on a pitchfork.

The kneeling man stood up. It was Jamie Frew, police doctor.

‘It’s yourself, Brodie. Still chasing trouble?’

‘Not as much as you, Jamie.’

I stared down on the massive bulk topped by the round face. From the centre of his chest grew a near vertical wood pole. The three tines were buried so deep that they were almost invisible. His shirt was stained and torn in other places. Blood had pooled around his chest and soaked into the runkled scrap of carpet.

‘It’s him all right. Is that really a pitchfork?’

‘It would appear so, Brodie,’ said Jamie. ‘He’s got further sets of puncture marks on his arms and abdomen commensurate with—’

‘—a pitchforking. Christ,’ I said. ‘So we’re looking for an angry farmer?’

‘Ah knew Ah could rely on you to lighten the mood, Brodie.’

I looked round the room. It had been quite a fight. Pictures ripped off walls, smashed chairs, table upended and a trail of blood across the floor suggesting Galdakis had dragged himself to where he now lay.

‘Any sign of a knife?’ I asked.

‘No. Why?’

‘He liked his knife. Could use it.’

‘We’ll have a look.’

‘What’s the other room like?’

‘Take a look.’

I walked down the short corridor and into the back room. The furniture had been repositioned since I’d last visited. It was neat but dusty, and it still felt empty and damp. The safe gaped open and empty on the sideboard. I walked back.

‘What happened, Duncan?’

‘Call from a neighbour a couple hours ago. Said there’d been a fight. A big shouting match, then a lot of crashing about and swearing. Then quiet.’

‘The rest is silence, right enough. What do you reckon? Front door bashed in?’

Duncan nodded. ‘Ah’m assuming you don’t simply walk up to somebody’s front door wi’ a pitchfork and ask to come in for tea.’

‘One man or many?’

‘Neighbours heard two or three voices all shouting.’

‘What were they shouting?’

‘She doesn’t know. Says it was some foreign words. Ah don’t think she meant sweary words that she was pretending never to have heard.’

‘And I don’t think it was the ghost of Paddy Craven. But he might well have been cheering them on.’

‘Retribution?’ asked Duncan.

‘Could be. Or just theft. They emptied the safe.’

‘It wisnae quite empty.’

‘Oh?’

‘Sergeant? Gie me that envelope.’

Duncan took it and gingerly fished out a stained slip of paper. The blotches were dark brown.

‘It’s a pawn slip,’ he said.

‘McGill’s?’

‘Oh aye. It could have been planted.’

‘Or just left where the raiders found it. But
you
think not?’

‘Ah think Galdakis knifed Paddy Craven and found this slip on him. He put two and two thegither. He stuck it in the safe and then went after McGill.’

‘Why? Craven didn’t manage to steal anything from Galdakis. Unless it was his second trip.’

‘Sheer badness? He knifed the thief six times. Maybe he carried his anger through to the fence? We’re looking for the missing link.’

‘Don’t bring Sangster into this.’

Duncan guffawed. Jamie Frew hid a smirk.

‘Enough, Brodie. Look, you met this guy. Any ideas?’

‘You’ve got prints from McGill’s. So that’s an easy check with this fella’s. But can you get your photographer to take a mug shot, before he goes off? There’s a bunch of folk I’d like to run it past. If you could get me half a dozen copies that would be even better.’

I felt no sorrow at the death of Galdakis, but it would fair put a damper on the rest of the evening with Sam.

We tried to pick up some of the lightness we were beginning to feel at her homecoming but even a wicked man’s death casts a shadow.

‘But why, Douglas? Why was Galdakis murdered?’

‘One of Paddy’s pals finishing the job of cracking the safe?’

‘With a pitchfork?’

‘Revenge for Paddy?’

‘If my memory serves me, Craven was a soloist.’

‘His wee wife, then?’

‘Against a gorilla? Your description, Douglas.’

We sat stymied for a bit, and then Sam took us down the next path.

‘Why would Galdakis go after McGill?’

‘Anger at the world? Out to get everyone involved in trying to steal from him? I don’t know. But when I met him I definitely felt he was hiding something. Wish I knew what else was in that safe.’

I got into the newsroom late the next morning. Christmas Eve. I paused at Morag’s desk. Something was nagging at me.

‘That phone call last night, Morag. Who was it?’

‘Oh, it was yon lassie. The one that calls you every week.’

‘Ellen Jacobs? Did she say what it was about?’

‘No. But she sounded a wee bit het up. And was really sorry she couldnae get you.’

I walked on to my desk. I sat and doodled for a while feeling a gnawing worry spreading through me. I don’t believe in coincidences.

It was no coincidence. Mid-morning, I saw Duncan’s figure over by the secretaries. They were pointing my way. I walked across and ushered Duncan out into the stairwell. He looked ashen.

‘Have you got the photos already?’

He shook his head. ‘No’ yet.’

My mouth was dry. ‘Spit it out, Duncan. Is it the prints? Did they match?’

‘We’re still waiting on them. Should hear this afternoon. It’s no aboot that. Or rather it is, but it’s different.’

‘It’s about Ellen Jacobs, isn’t it?’

His eyes widened. ‘Huv ye heard?’

I shook my head.

‘Well, then. She’s been found deid. This morning. In a phone box by the Broomielaw.’

I felt the world go still. Then a roaring in my ears. Then Duncan grabbing me by the arm.

‘Brodie! Brodie! Are you a’ right?’

I gulped in air. ‘I’m fine. Fine. Oh, shit! What time? I mean, when do you reckon she died?’

‘Hard to tell. The poor wee lassie was a’ bunched up on the flair of the box. The cord was roon her neck. It was freezing cold. Must have been last night.’

‘She called here at five yesterday.’

His eyes lifted to mine. ‘Did you speak to her?’

‘No. I missed the call.’ Refused her call. ‘You should have locked her up, Duncan. For her own good.’

‘Aye maybe. Wi’ hindsight.’

He looked away. A thought struck me. Surely not.

‘Did you do it deliberately? You didn’t want her locked up until you saw if anything happened to her?’

‘Not at a’.’

‘You used her as bait!’

‘Naw, naw. It wisnae like that, Brodie.’


What was it like?

‘Tak’ your hands aff my coat!’

I released him. I lowered my voice.

‘What
was
it like, Duncan?’

‘Ah just though Ah’d let things run. See what happened for a bit. Christ, Brodie, there were twa murders! An’ we hudnae a clue about either. Sangster was on my case.’

I left him standing in the hall. I went back in, grabbed my coat and walked out into the cold damp streets. The shops had fairy lights on. A brave attempt at jollity. A group of Salvation Army singers stood outside Central Station singing their hearts out and collecting for the homeless. Peace on Earth. Goodwill to all men.

BOOK: Pilgrim Soul
8.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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