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Authors: Tom Knox

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BOOK: The Marks of Cain
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Fermina Garovillo was pushing her son away, but Miguel was shouting at his father, and at Amy and David, shouting in Basque, his words unintelligible – the only thing that was obvious was the
ferocious anger.
José shouted a few words in return – but weakly, unconvincingly.

And then Miguel shouted in English. At David. His deep angry voice vibrated in the air.

‘Get the
ffffffuck
out of here. You want the whore? Then take her. You take all this shit out of here. Go now.’

David backed away. ‘We’re going…We’re going…’

‘First time I hit you. Next time I shoot you.’

Amy and David turned and ran into the yard and jumped in the car.

But Miguel followed them outside the house. He had taken out his gun, he was holding a black pistol in the air. Holding it – as if to show them. David got the strange jarring sense of something inhuman about him: a giant. A violent
jentilak
of the forest displaying his strength and anger. The gun was so very black. Glinting in the watery sunlight.

David urgently reversed. He spiralled the wheel – and at last they turned, revving in the mud, and then they rocked down the track, skidding out onto the road.

For half an hour David drove fast and hard, into the green grey foothills, just driving to get away.

When the panic and shock had subsided, David felt a rising anger, and a
need to stop and think.

He pulled over. They were halted at the edge of a village, with a timberyard on their left. The distant Pyrenees seemed a lot less pretty now; the pinetops of the forest were laced with an insistent and smothering mist. A church, surrounded by circular gravestones, sat on a hill above them.

Everything was damp, everything around them was faintly, ripely, perceptibly rotting away in the damp.

David cursed.

‘What. The. Fuck.’

Amy tilted her face, apologetically.

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘What?’

‘Sorry…’

‘It’s not your fault.’

‘But…’ She shook her head. ‘But it is. Maybe you
should
go home, David. Miguel is my problem.’

‘No. No way. This is my problem too.’

‘But I told you what he is like. Murderously jealous. He…really will…do something. He might even…’

‘Kill me?’

She winced.

David felt the surge of a rebel spirit.

‘Fuck him. I want to know the
answers
.’ He started the car and negotiated the road slowly for a few minutes. ‘I want to know it all. My grandfather wouldn’t have sent me here – sent me into all this – unless he had a reason. I want to know
why.’

‘The map.’

‘Exactly. The map. You heard what José said, saw how he reacted – there is something – something –’

He was searching for a way to describe the complexity of puzzles; his next words were interrupted.

‘Don’t stop.’

‘What?’

‘Drive on.’

‘What?’

David felt the cold possibility constrict around his heart.

Amy confirmed.

‘Miguel. In the car. Right behind.

9

Her eyes were locked on the mirror. David copied her gaze.

‘Jesus.’ He squinted. ‘Are you sure?
Is it the same one?

‘Numberplate.
It’s him
.’

The road ahead was narrow, the fog was thickening as they climbed the mountainside.

‘But…’ David gripped the steering wheel tightly. ‘Was he there all along? Following?’

‘Who knows. Maybe he followed us. Or…’

‘What?’

‘He is ETA. This is real ETA territory.’

‘So…’

‘They watch the roads all the time. He has friends and contacts all over. Maybe someone made a phone call. We were just parked there by the village. What do we
do
?’

The fear was tangible. But David felt the rising defiance – again. He thought of his beloved mother and father:
who left him alone
. He thought of his loneliness: he’d had to fight his way through college, on his own, with just a distant grandfather in Phoenix. He had made it through all that shit, he had dealt with all
that
, so he wasn’t going to be frightened off, even by the most demonic of murdering terrorists.
Not now. Not when he knew his grandfather’s mystery was linked to his own background, his own identity. This revelation of his Basqueness.

And
he didn’t like being
hunted.

‘Let’s lose this bastard.’

Pressing the throttle, he accelerated up the narrow, sharply curving road; the noise of the engine was painful as they shot between the stony hedgerows and the muddy slopes. Then he checked the mirror.

The red car was closing.

‘Shit.’

David could taste the savour of alarm; he ignored it, and changed down a gear or two – then he surged on, as fast as he could.

‘David –’

On their left was a sudden cliff-edge. The slope was brutal – a fall of three hundred metres, or more. Just a few metres the wrong way and they would spin helplessly over the precipice.

David steered back to safety – but then –
thump.

The red car had smacked into them. The bump from behind was firm, deliberate, and destabilizing. David gripped the wheel desperately, and kept them gripped to the road – then he flicked a frightened glance at the mirror. He couldn’t see for sure, but it felt like their pursuer was…
smiling
?

‘Don’t worry, it’s alright –’ he said to Amy.

Why was he saying this? He was
terrified
. And yet he was feeling a rush of fury as well. Not now. Don’t give up
now.
If he gave up – what had it all been for? All those years of doing nothing, sitting in that sterile office, being a lawyer; struggling to make relationships, so scared that people would leave him – leave him alone, again.

His heart swelled with angry revolt; he was going to save Amy, and save himself – he could do it.

The accelerator crushed to the floor, he raced the car as fast as he dared. He felt a certain confidence as he did this – despite his grinding fears. He’d had to learn to drive when young, to get himself around. He was pretty good.

But this was a different kind of driving: they were skidding madly round bends, higher and higher. And they were being chased.

Then the road began to zigzag, turns getting tighter, until at last it slashed around a sheer rock wall, totally blind – David caught his own breath, his heart thumped, this was it – but the corner was clear.

David scoped the mirror. The red car had slowed for a moment, he’d outpaced their remorseless pursuer. He had a few seconds’ grace.

As they roared along, he tried to think. If they stopped the car and got out and ran, maybe they could hide…but the red car was surely too near. Miguel had a gun, maybe he would chase them across the rocks. Teasing them – then shooting them. A simple execution in the forest.

‘David!’

The red car was speeding towards them. David couldn’t go any faster. They had reached the crisis: the terminal moment. No one would see. They were right above the clouds now; the sun was brilliant and dazzling, shining off clumps of unmelted snow. This was where they would die. A man and a woman in a car. Like his parents. Both dead.

But then David saw a chance. Up ahead was an expanse of bare rock. Three seconds later he slid the car onto a flank of raw limestone and did a squealing handbrake turn. They spun like they were kids in a nightmarish fairground ride, a vicious carousel.

And it worked.
The red car shot right past. At once David took off the other way, descending fast and hard.

He was racing vertiginously down the mountain road – he could see the red car turning, in his mirror. But this time he had a plan, as he rounded the sharp rocky corner at eighty miles an hour and they raced into the grey forests. He took a wild right turn up a farm track.

Into the trees.

The track swung this way and that, catapulting them into the dark woodlands. The car bounced and groaned, and after half a mile the track stopped. David parked the car with a jolt, he kicked open the door and jumped out – Amy was already outside and waiting. He grabbed her hand and they fled into the woods, running between the trees and the rocks and leaping over a stream until they found a great boulder.

And then at last they stopped, and crouched down. And waited. Panting and breathing.

David’s heart was a madman clattering his prison bars; Amy’s hand was tight and clammy in his fist.

They crouched there, cold and mute. The forest crackled, under the mournful drizzle. Nothing happened. Wisps of fog drifted between the sombre black larches, like fairytale wraiths.

The low sound of a car engine throbbed in the distance. The red car, presumably – looking for them. The engine seemed to slow, somewhere on the road. Somewhere quite near. David felt Amy’s fingers tighten on his. The agonizing moments marched slowly by, like a funeral parade. They waited to be found, and shot.

Or worse.

The car engine throbbed again. It was going. The red car was
taking off
, heading downhill maybe. Silence surrounded them. David allowed himself to breathe.

But his relief was aborted by a singular
snap
: the sound of twigs, broken underfoot.

10

The old women were singing through their noses, a rising carol of weird sounds; the tremulous voice of the dark-suited man at the front – warbling and waving his hands – led and yet followed the intense humming from the choir of ululating women.

They were still in Foula, about three hundred miles from Glasgow.

Simon and Sanderson and Tomasky had spent an uncomfortable night in Foula’s only B&B, waiting for a chance to interview Edith Tait. The B&B owner, a middle-aged widower from Edinburgh, had been all too excited by the influx of glamorous tourists – of new people to talk to – and he had kept them up, over tots of whisky, with bloodcurdling tales of Foula’s weirdness and danger.

He told them of the German birdwatcher who had slipped on some lamb’s afterbirth, banged his head on a rock, and had his brains devoured by Arctic skuas; he mentioned a tourist couple who had gone to the highest cliff, the Kame, and been swept over the precipice when one of them sneezed.

All this Simon absorbed with a suppressed smile; Sanderson
was openly sarcastic: ‘So the tourist death rate, is what, about fifty percent?’

But there was one thing the journalist found truly and deeply interesting: the Gaelic heritage of the isle. As the hostel owner explained, Foula was so isolated it had maintained Norse-Gaelic cultural characteristics that had almost disappeared elsewhere. They used their own Gregorian calendar, they celebrated Christmas on January 6th, and some of the locals still spoke authentic Scots Gaelic.

They did this especially at church, where the services were, apparently, some of the very last of their kind: notable for a capella nose singing, known as ‘Dissonant Gaelic Psalmody’, as the B&B owner explained – with loving relish.

So now they were actually in the kirk listening to the Nasal Celtic Heterophony, waiting for a chance to talk to Edith. Simon was distinctly drawn to this authentic, ancient, possibly pagan tradition; DCI Sanderson was less impressed.

‘They sound like a bunch of mad Irish bumblebees in the shower.’

His sidelong remark was loud. One woman turned around and gave the DCI a stare; she was singing through her nonagenarian nostrils, even as she glared.

DCI Sanderson blushed, stood up, and edged along the pew, and bumbled out of the kirk. Feeling exposed and conspicuous, Simon swiftly followed. He found Sanderson dragging on a cigarette by the graveyard.

Sanderson dropped the cigarette, crushed it under his shoe, and gazed at the Sneck o’ da Smaalie, a great ravine hard by the kirk that led all the way down to the roiling sea, which writhed like a fallen epileptic in a blue straitjacket; the earlier rain had dropped and the sky had cleared.

‘Not religious then, Detective?’

‘You guessed?’ Sanderson’s smile was sarcastic. ‘Went to
a church school, because my parents were real believers. Guaranteed to put you off.’

Simon nodded. ‘My experience was absolutely the opposite, my folks were…atheists. Scientists and architects.’ An unwarranted thought ran through his mind:
das Helium und das Hydrogen
. He hurried the conversation along. ‘So they never forced any belief system on me at all. Now I do have…rather vague beliefs.’

‘Nice for you.’ The DCI was glaring at a white shape. A sheep had wandered into the graveyard. ‘Jesus, what a place. All these sheep everywhere. Sheep. What are they about. Stupid woolly fuckers.’

Sanderson put a hand on the journalist’s shoulder, and looked him in the eye.

‘Quinn. There’s something you should know. If you still wanna write up this case.’

‘Yes?’

‘There was another murder. This morning. Heard on the wire. We’re certain it’s related.’ He frowned. ‘So I can tell you.’

‘Where?’

‘Near Windsor. An old man named Jean Mendia. That’s why Tomasky flew home this morning. To do some knock-ups.’

The nasal singing in the church had stopped.

‘Let me guess, the victim is Southern French? Deformed?’

Sanderson shook his head.

‘French Basque, yes. From Gascony. But no, not deformed. And not tortured.’

Before he could ask the obvious question, Sanderson added, ‘The reasons we’re
sure
it’s connected are: his age, very old; and the fact he was Basque;
and
there was no robbery. An apparently pointless killing.’

‘So that’s three…’

‘Yep.’

‘Who on earth is doing it? And why?’

‘God knows. So maybe we could ask Him.’ He turned.

The service was concluded. The church door had swung open, and bonneted old ladies were parading out of the kirk into the daylight, chattering in English and Gaelic.

They quickly located Edith Tait. She was spryer than Simon had expected: despite being sixty-seven, she could have passed for fifty. But the twinkle in her eye soon dulled as they told her who they were: and their reason for tracking her down.

Edith actually looked, for a moment, as if she might burst into tears. But then she buttoned her tweed coat even tighter and ushered them back into the empty church, where they sat on a pew and conversed.

She was not the witness they’d hoped for. She admitted she had heard the odd sound on the fateful night –
but she couldn’t be sure.
She might have heard the whirr of a small boat in the wee small hours –
but she couldn’t be sure
.

Edith Tait wasn’t sure about anything – but that was hardly her fault. She was doing her best – and the process obviously wasn’t easy for her. At the end of her testimony, Edith emitted a tiny sob, which she hid with her pale hands. Then she unmasked herself, and gazed at the journalist.

‘I am so sorry, I cannae help any more. She was a very good friend to me, you know. My very good friend. I am so sorry, Mister…gentlemen. You have come all this way to see me. But I didnae see what I didnae see.’

Simon swapped a knowing glance with Sanderson. This was a sweet old lady, doing her damnedest, they’d gone almost as far as they could. There was just one more question that maybe needed asking.

‘When and why did Julie come to Foula, Edith? It’s a pretty remote place.’

‘She arrived in the late 1940s, I do believe.’ Edith frowned. ‘Aye. The 1940s. We became friends later, when my mammy died and I inherited the croft next door.’

‘So you don’t know
why
she emigrated to Foula, of all places, from France?’

‘Noo.’ Edith shook her head. ‘She would never talk about that, so I never asked her. Perhaps there was some family secret. Perhaps she just liked the loneliness and the quiet, just now. Some people do, you know…And now I really must go. My friend is expecting me.’

‘Of course.’

The interview was done. He closed his notebook.

However, as she walked to the exit, Edith slowed, and tilted her head. Engaging with the question.

‘Actually. There is
one
more thing. One more thing you maybe should know. A wee peculiarity.’

Simon opened the notepad.

‘Yes?’

‘A little while ago…She was being bothered by a young man, a young scientist…She found it most upsetting.’

‘Sorry?’

‘Angus Nairn, he was called.’ The old lady closed her eyes – and opened them once again. ‘That was it. Good Scotsname. Yes. He was bothering her with phone calls, the scientist chappie.’

‘What do you mean, “bothering”?’

‘He wanted to examine her. He said she was a unique case. A Basque, I think. Is that right? I don’t know. Basque maybe. Aye.’

‘And this upset her?’

‘Very much so. Much more than you would expect. She was greeting for a week. That man Nairn truly upset her. There now, my friend is waving.’

Simon pressed on: ‘But Mrs Tait?’

She nodded.

‘When you say this man wanted to use her in a test, what did he mean? What did he want to test?’ Edith calmly replied:

‘Her blood.’

BOOK: The Marks of Cain
11.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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