Authors: Denzil Meyrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Crime
‘OK, grab her other arm, Karen, and mind and pull gently – we want to disturb this as little as possible.’ The police-woman looked doubtfully at the body, but did as she was told, looking away as she grabbed the left wrist, lips pursed in distaste. ‘One, two, three . . .’ They started to pull. To the collective horror of all three on the beach, the corpse, with a great issue of dark fluid and some more solid matter, broke neatly apart, with the deep sucking noise of a plunger working on a blocked sink. Both police officers, having put more effort into their task than required, fell backwards onto the shingle, the top half of the deceased now some two feet away from the rest of the remains.
In a split second, the fetid stench emanating from the newly cleft body induced the dog to stand tall on all fours and emit a mournful howl, as Karen retched copiously over her uniform, still sitting on the shingle where her assistance to the CID had left her. Body fluids seeped darkly into the sand; even the local seagull population had registered the events and were now swirling in a squawking frenzy over the bay.
‘Fuck!’ Fraser momentarily forgot the presence of Mrs MacPherson, who was herself looking on in disbelief, as though she was waiting for someone to come bounding from behind a rock to confirm the whole ghastly episode was an elaborate joke, of the type played out on late-night TV.
Just then, movement to his right caught Fraser’s eye. Three figures were walking purposefully down the beach towards him.
The slight, taut figure of Inspector MacLeod was unmistakable at their head. It took the Inspector a few moments to grasp exactly what was in front of him. One of his DCs was getting up from the sand, leaving the torso of a dead woman, and a PC, who was spewing at his feet. A woman he did not know was sobbing convulsively, while a large black dog happily wagged its tail at the new arrivals. Only feet away, the rest of the body could barely be made out in the badly discoloured water. A sickening stench was all pervasive.
‘What the fuck are you doing, boy?’ MacLeod’s temples displayed throbbing veins. ‘In all my years in the police I have never seen the like.’
‘I was merely trying to . . .’
‘You were merely trying to fuck things up, as usual.’ The Inspector was incandescent. ‘Aye, and all our careers along with it. I dread to think what they taught you at the training college. In my day you were shown how to preserve the crime scene, not tear the bloody thing in half!’ As though suddenly remembering others were there, MacLeod visibly took hold of himself and addressed the PC next to him. ‘Sergeant Shaw, please do your best to ensure that the remains are contained at this locus.’ Turning to a stocky man in a well-worn sports jacket with patched sleeves, he said, ‘Sandy, are you able to make any kind of examination under these circumstances?’ At that he looked towards Fraser with a thunderous glare.
Sandy, whom Fraser recognised as one of the local doctors, ran his hand through greying locks as he surveyed the scene. ‘Well, Charles, I can only concur with your accurate assessment.’ His accent was straight out of the Scottish public-school system. ‘I, too, have never attended such an incident in thirty years of medicine.’ He looked at the young DC with
a pursed mouth that spoke of nothing but contempt, then leaned over the landed portion of body, rubbing his chin.
MacLeod walked away from the group, gesturing to Fraser to come with him. Once out of earshot, he grabbed the younger man’s arm and on tiptoe addressed the DC’s right ear with spitting vitriol. ‘You listen to me, constable. Since you arrived at my station you’ve lurched from one crisis to the next.’ Fraser could feel his face redden. ‘As soon as this sorry mess is over I’ll be recommending to HQ that you are not only unsuited to the CID, but to police work in general. Be absolutely sure that the cack will land on your head, not mine. We’ll be the laughing stock of the force by tea time at this rate.’
Fraser resisted an urge to grab his superior and fling him bodily to the ground. He was considering what to say in his defence when a shout from the doctor turned both of their heads.
‘One for the big boys, I’m afraid, Charles.’ The doctor was brushing sand from his trousers as the policemen walked back over to the scene. ‘It’s murder, nasty business.’
‘How can you be so sure, Sandy?’ The inspector looked doubtfully at the medic.
‘Oh, quite easily, Inspector MacLeod. She has a ligature around her neck.’
Detective Inspector Jim Daley reflected on the dispiriting nature of shopping for trousers as he handed his credit card over to the assistant in the fashionable clothes store. In his twenties – even in his thirties – he had been able to maintain a respectable waistline without the deployment of starvation diets or drastic fitness regimes. Now in his early forties – as he liked to think of forty-three – and especially after giving up cigarettes, he felt his stomach now capable of gaining inches overnight. It was not without a little trepidation that he eyed a suit or a pair of jeans he had not worn for a few weeks. Often, trying to get them on, there would follow a desperate tugging at a straining zip, a grunting wrestle with a recalcitrant waistband, a holding in of both breath and stomach, as he fought to get the garment into a position whereby he could move, sit or stand without a trouser button shooting into the air like a misdirected bullet; worse still, without hearing the sickening rip of stitching tearing apart over a more than ample backside.
He had resolved therefore to make a new start as far as trousers were concerned: go out and buy a pair that more suited his thickening frame, regardless of how unpalatable the thought was of having a matching age and waist size.
After all, he would get older, diet and join a gym, thus ensuring that these numbers would diverge in an acceptable manner in the near future.
He caught a glimpse of himself in a full-length mirror as he left the shop. Was that overweight, middle-aged man really him? He consoled himself with the fact that he was six feet three and still had his own hair and teeth. Sure, women found him attractive, just not the woman he wanted to, or so it seemed. Tall, dark, getting fatter and older but still handsome – that summed up Jim Daley.
The theme tune from
jolted him from thoughts of sartorial insecurity to an equally perplexing subject: his wife Liz. She called infrequently when he was at work and he had become used to these calls containing at least a modicum of bad or unwelcome news.
‘Hi, Liz. Everything OK?’ He always sounded so lame when he had to speak to her unexpectedly. He felt an involuntary frisson of excitement at the sound of the well-spoken, smoky tones.
‘Oh, hi, darling. That was quick. Is it OK to talk?’
‘Yeah, no bother. I’m actually . . .’
She gave him no time to finish. ‘Great. Just to let you know, Jill wants me to go up to the caravan at Granton for a few days. Anyway, I thought, the weather’s nice, and it’s not as though we’ll be doing anything, so I’m leaving in a couple of hours.’
Daley was used to being presented with a
. He marvelled at the effortless way Liz, again, managed to impart her intention to do as she pleased, while at the same time make him feel as though he was in some way responsible. He attempted a rear-guard action. ‘I’ll be home about five. We
could go to the wee pub for a couple of drinks, or get a curry or something – make a night of it. You could go up to Jill’s in the morning.’
Liz’s reply was as predictable as it was swift. ‘Oh, what a pity you didn’t mention it before. She’s invited me to dinner tonight as well. Mark has some boring guest to entertain. I’ve already said I would go. Sorry, darling.’
‘Oh, OK,’ was all he could muster. He guessed it was true what people said: once a partner had been unfaithful, it was really difficult to regain the trust that was so important in any relationship. And Liz had been spectacularly unfaithful. The first incident – that he knew of – had been with her gym instructor. Sent home early by the force’s medical officer after taking a baseball bat across the head during a drug raid, he thought he heard noises as he gained the stairs of their new detached home in the village of Howwood. The vision of Liz on hands and knees on their bed while her paramour worked energetically behind her was seared onto his memory. Suffering from a hair-trigger temper as well as an acute headache, Daley proceeded to render the third party insensible with a swift uppercut, dragged him by the hair onto the small balcony, and despatched him neatly over the railing and into the garden below.
The sight of a naked man struggling to stand up, with what looked alarmingly like a broken leg, accompanied by the shrieks of an obviously frantic woman, constituted more than enough reason for the good people of Howwood to call the police. Eventually, after much pulling of strings and dire warnings regarding the diminishment of his prospects, a deal was done behind the scenes, and Daley – forced to attend anger management classes – was left to
resurrect, as best he could, the remnants of his career. Having reached Detective Inspector in his mid thirties, Jim Daley could reasonably have hoped for Superintendent or beyond before retirement. This was now most unlikely. As for Liz, she had vowed undying love for him and tearfully cited boredom and loneliness as an excuse for her behaviour. Although Daley realised he was wrong, his almost cloying love for her saw him take the only action that seemed palatable: forgiveness. Since then, even when close friends and colleagues alerted him to likely dalliances, he chose to ignore them, having neither the strength nor will to do the sensible thing and leave her. Though he would never let her know, he was head over heels in love with her, and, even though he barely believed it himself, was prepared to accede to almost anything in order to keep their relationship afloat.
She said and did all the right things: she showed great interest in him, they made passionate love, declared satisfied happiness, promised unerring loyalty, but all to no avail. Now that trust was absent, only the slavery of obsession remained. Daley was forced to endure the nods and winks of colleagues; the police of course being a small community where gossip was rife. Had Liz been less attractive her indiscretions would probably have gone unnoticed, however, such were the rumours of her wanton nature, every male colleague now reckoned that they had a chance with her.
‘Anyway, you know what the traffic’s like in the morning.’ Liz pronounced ‘morning’ with that annoying intonation that had crept into everyday usage from Australian sitcoms, as though the knowledge or concept of the morning was something entirely alien to the listener.
The habit annoyed Daley, who hardened his reply. ‘Yeah, whatever you think, Liz. When will you be back?’
‘Oh, you know me, darling – go with the flow.’ He did. ‘Anyway, better dash. I’ve left one of those microwave curries out for you. Ring you later. Love you.’ The term of affection was an obvious afterthought.
Daley stood with the handset to his ear for a few moments. So little said, so much left unsaid: it summed up their marriage. He walked back to the car park, made a mental note to get his car washed, then drove to the station.
Jim returned to his office by way of the coffee machine. On reaching the second floor and his shared office he could hear his DS swearing volubly at his computer. ‘You know, I’m buggered how they think that getting us tae dae all this typing ourselves is cost effective.’ DS Brian Scott was more agitated than normal, which was, indeed, saying something. ‘When I joined up you just had tae scribble something doon and wait for some daft wee lassie in the typing pool tae dae the business. Noo, well, I’ll tell ye, Paisley’s goin’ like a fair, while I’m up here learnin’ tae be a fuckin’ secretary.’
‘Ah, DS Scott.’ Daley aped the clipped Kelvinside tones of their boss. ‘It’s incumbent upon us all to integrate with new policing methods.’ He grinned at Scott’s exasperation.
‘Aye, and fuck him tae. It’s getting tae be ye need a degree in this shit jist tae dae yer ain job.’ Scott was smiling in spite of himself. An IT specialist he most certainly was not; a highly effective, sometimes inspired police officer he most certainly was. His brusque manner and tendency to ignore the rulebook had hampered his progress through the ranks,
and he would no doubt end his career as a DS. Daley felt that it was a role tailor made for his gritty determination, and he valued his assistance more than he would ever admit. Simply, they made a good team.
Daley walked to his large paper-strewn desk. A yellow Post-it note placed on top of a mountain of files announced
Numpty wants to see you!
in Scott’s bold, untidy hand.
‘When did his magnificence call?’ Daley enquired, looking up just in time to see Scott’s computer screen turn a brilliant blue.
‘Oh, just after you left. He’s in a right stooshie aboot somethin’. He didna even pull me up aboot whit a coup this place is.’ He swung his chair around to face Daley, left hand outstretched in a gesture of disbelief at his computer screen. ‘I mean, whit the fuck is this a’ aboot?’
Draining his coffee, Daley went over to Scott’s desk, where he deftly pressed a few keys on the computer, restoring it to the report on which the DS was working. ‘Just how many computer courses have you been on? It must be dozens now.’
Scott’s face took on a look of rueful resignation, ‘Aye, a few, but you’ve got tae remember, Jim, every time I get a chance tae go up tae the college it’s mair like a break from my dear lady wife. That’s a great wee bar they’ve got there, an’, well, by the time ye’ve sobered up in the morning, ye’ve well an’ truly lost the thread aboot whit the fuck they’re on aboot.’
Daley chuckled to himself as he took the lift to the top floor of the building. As the elevator doors swished open he marvelled, not for the first time, at the steep upward curve in the standard of opulence in this portion of the station. Gone was the bare functionality of the other three floors, to be replaced by dark wood panelling, tasteful paintings, picked
out by soft lighting and thick carpeting punctuated by tall verdant pot plants. Even the civilian staff were of a more aesthetically pleasing variety; a woman in a tight-fitting skirt wiggled past him in a cloud of expensive perfume that reminded him of Liz.