Authors: Campbell Hart
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Crime Fiction, #Noir
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, either living
or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © Campbell Hart 2016
All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form without the prior permission of the publisher.
Cover design: Tim Byrne
Glasgow, July 17
The eye muscles dilated as his irises strained to make sense of the phantasmagoria that was unfolding in the fading light. Horace McMahon was something of an anomaly; everyone said it, so it must be true. With one green eye and one blue he’d been called a freak as a child, with classmates unsympathetic to his genetic muddle. But that was then. Tonight, as twilight spread across his native city, Horace knew that his ‘luck’ had run out, and that he’d made his last bad decision, for better or worse. In the background his companions grew in confidence and edged ever closer. The sound of feathers fluttering against metal girders grew nearer by the second.
He was past hunger, and weak; unable to move, save for the flickering of his eyelids. Horace lay face down on the embankment, covered in tarpaulin – although it was summer and hot, he was freezing, with only his head exposed. The light was starting to dim.
The head appeared first. He paid no notice to the sleek, black plumage; his attention focused solely on the raven’s persistent caw. It sounded to Horace like ‘go, go’. He watched as the beak split open, revealing a pink maw. The bird looked hungry. He was well past the stage of trying to scare it away. In the background the twitter of a new brood grew louder. There were mouths to feed.
Horace knew he should try and fight but the power was off, his retina useless. His photoreceptors had captured their last rays of light and the optic nerves were spent. The last image Horace McMahon saw was a speckling of light which spread quickly into darkness.
After the rasp of his final breath the first peck split the cornea. The bird delved deeper, sensing there would be no more resistance. In the background the Clyde crashed past the bridge and flowed on and out to sea.
Entry to the crime scene wasn’t straightforward. Preparations for the Commonwealth Games were now in their final stages and large parts of the East End had been fenced off ahead of the opening ceremony. DI John Arbogast had been called after an unusual discovery had been phoned in; an eyeball had been found by one of the workers setting up the Live Zone. But the road through was slow going and the Lexus crawled through the public park at 10mph.
Arbogast turned from the wheel, “Is the guy still down here?” DI Chris Guthrie nodded. The road which ran through the southern edge of the park had been cordoned off, with a ten foot barrier enclosing the space earmarked for public entertainment. They passed a large digital dot matrix sign which spelled out ‘Glasgow 2014 weclomes you.’
Chris Guthrie laughed, “I hope their attention to detail’s a bit better at the main event.” As they approached the King’s Drive Bridge which linked Bridgeton to the Gorbals, they could see birds circling overhead. The smile left Guthrie’s face, “That’s never a good sign.”
Driving west they saw the road had been closed. Blue and white striped Police tape stretched from the boundary fence, which barred access to the Clyde, across to a row of Ash trees which lined the road. Inside the cordon an Ambulance had already arrived, while a patrol car blocked the way.
Arbogast smiled when he saw Kath Finch from Forensics, “Hey, Kath, always a pleasure. What do we know?”
Kath Finch was taking off her protective gloves. She pushed back the hood from her plastic overalls, while her mouth guard hung beneath her chin. She preferred to be left to work alone but knew it was only a matter of time before the questions would start. Resisting the urge for sarcasm Kath bit her tongue and tried the civil approach, “Not much just now. I would have to say that it’s probably a bit early for you two to be getting involved. Are things a bit quiet up at Major Crime?”
“Everyone’s being pulled into the Commonwealth rota; we’ve all got to do our bit. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the next two weeks.”
“The eyes of the world will be on us, John.”
Arbogast raised his eyebrow, “Pun intended?”
“Very droll, but no, it wasn’t. The eye is the only thing we’ve found so far. It’s been badly damaged. Looks like the birds have been at it,” she turned and pointed up, “There’s a flock of crows nesting on the bridge. They can smell the meat.”
Arbogast scanned the bridge, trying to see the birds, “Have you found the body?”
“We’ve just got here so nothing yet; we’re going to have to check the bridge supports.” King’s Drive Bridge passed above a section of the Green, its undercarriage was made up of a steel grid.
“You can see there’s a section on the bridge support which looks like it’s got a cavity on the stone. There might be something there. We get a lot of homeless guys using something similar under the Jamaica Street Bridge, but this one’s awkward to get to so it’s not as popular.”
“Not impossible though?”
“No. Not at all, but it would be tricky. It doesn’t look like there’s an easy way to get up there.”
Chris Guthrie was standing peering over the metal fence which formed the Green boundary, “I think there’s something up there, look.” He was pointing at the bridge, “What’s that crow doing?”
“It’s not a crow, it’s a raven,” Arbogast could never understand why people didn’t know the difference.
“Whatever it is, it looks hungry.” They could see the bird tearing at something, “What is it, a plastic bag?” Kath Finch was squinting to try and make out the shape from the gloom of the metal supporting beams.
“We need to take a closer look.”
Peter Lomax wasn’t happy. He looked at his watch for the fifth time in two minutes, before glancing at the Constable, “Look, how long is this going to take? I’m down to the wire with time. I’ve 15 stalls to set up in the next four hours. I don’t need this kind of delay.”
DS Valerie Sessions was in no mood for a smart arse, “I’m sorry to inconvenience you, sir, but correct me if I’m wrong – you did phone in the fact that you’d found a human eye?”
Her ward wasn’t impressed, “Well I thought you should know, but I didn’t expect to be kept waiting around for three hours. Have you any idea how much pressure I’m under to get this job done? There will be tens of thousands of people coming through here in a couple of days.”
“I’m well aware of the Games timetable, but we need to follow procedure.” Valerie wasn’t 100% certain, but she assumed the muttering she heard as Peter Lomax walked off wasn’t entirely complimentary.
It took the driver of the cherry-picker half an hour to negotiate his way through the security perimeter. By the time the clamps had been put in place, tempers were high.
Lorna McMahon hadn’t seen her husband in three days and given the circumstances surrounding his disappearance she was starting to get scared. Agitated, she tidied up the kitchen; rearranging shelves, mopping the floor – but she couldn’t get her mind off of what might have happened to Horace. Moving through the house she called upstairs to her daughter.
“Leona, are you just going to sit up there all day watching TV? We’ve got things to do.” There was no response. The bedroom door was closed and the drone of music was drowning her out. “Leona, can you hear me?” Lorna felt herself getting angry and raised her voice, “Did you hear me?” It made her feel better to shout, she needed to vent her anger, to do something.
Upstairs there was a break in the noise as the stereo was switched off. The bedroom door creaked open and Lorna saw her daughter peer round and down the stairs.
“What is it?”
Lorna hated this tone the most, the sneering whine which signalled complete indifference.
“I said we’ve got things to do.” Lorna felt bad for snapping. Leona hadn’t been well and her skin was sallow, grey bags had formed under her eyes. She’d been having trouble with her teeth too with some starting to shift in her gums. The dentist had insisted that they ‘eat more greens’ but that was easier said than done, especially now.
“I don’t feel like going out today, it’s too hot.”
Lorna looked up, biting her lower lip, she wasn’t proud of what she was asking her daughter to do, “I know love, but we have to go out again. I don’t know when your dad’s coming back.”
Leona’s heavy feet clumped down the stairs, stopping on the last step, “He’s never away this long, do you think he’s alright?”
Lorna stroked the back of Leona’s head and nodded, “I’m sure he’ll be fine, it’s just getting harder for everyone just now. He’ll be back, you’ll see. But I’m serious, though, we need to go.”
Outside, the heat was baking. It was 32c and the city was in go-slow mode. Men from 18 to 80 walked the streets free from their winter layers, the cancer call of ‘taps aff’ rang round the west coast as shirts were dispensed in favour of skin. Some fared better than others, although almost all were burnt to a crisp on the first day of the heat wave.
Lorna’s nose recoiled at the smell from the street. A blocked drain reeked ripe in the heat, with the stench reminding her of a summer school trip to Spain in the 90s. They had moved to Corsock Street two years ago, after being re-housed from a high rise block in Royston. The newly built Housing Association digs had been a big improvement, although the McMahons didn’t have enough money to completely furnish the place. Lorna and Horace had both been working at that time. She’d been getting regular shifts in a nursery while Horace had been a labourer at the new Velodrome. He complained it was hard work but it had been well paid and he had been proud to have been involved. That was before the accident. Horace had been grafting at height on scaffolding. But he hadn’t been paying attention and had fallen 20 feet through a hole meant as an exit to the floor below. The good news was that he didn’t die, but he broke his back and was out of work for a year before he could even think about returning. But by then the project had finished and no-one wanted to take a chance on Horace, who now had a reputation for carelessness. He tried for other jobs but his heart wasn’t in it – he’d been furious when he’d been asked to act out a scene from a Disney film as part of an interview to work the tills at a supermarket. The idea had been to take him out of his comfort zone and look on a situation from someone else’s point of view. Lorna had tried to make him feel better when he’d complained that it had made him feel like an idiot. But deep down she resented that he hadn’t tried, they needed the money. His depression had started not long after, which brought on more stress for Lorna. She knew her wage wasn’t enough to support the three of them and after Horace’s disability benefits stopped, money became a real issue. Last year she’d suffered a minor nervous breakdown, left her job, and was now being pressured by the dole office to get back to work. She wasn’t sure if she was ready, but something had to change. They were missing meals and Leona was starting to drift away. She was 15 and wanted the things her friends had. Lorna was determined to make sure she was OK. First, though, they needed to eat.