Authors: Denzil Meyrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Crime
Behind the closed door the sound of a giggling female was plain. The nameplate read simply:
SUPERINTENDENT JOHN DONALD. COMMANDER DIV. CID
. Daley knocked loudly three times. After a few moments of mumbled voices, the familiar ‘Come’ served as an invitation for Daley to enter. He opened the door and stepped inside, straight-backed and confident.
Donald was sitting behind an unfeasibly large desk that made the rest of the office seem shrunken. An attractive woman stood over him clutching a file, looking intently on as the superintendent busily appended his signature to a document.
‘Ah, Jim.’ Donald’s eyes flitted towards him then back to his papers. He gestured airily with his left hand. ‘Make yourself comfortable while I satisfy the rapacious appetite for my time this young lady seems to harbour.’
Same old, same old. Jim was used to his boss’s eccentricities; at times it felt as though he had worked for this man for his entire career. As a young probationary cop Donald had been Daley’s shift sergeant. On his first posting to Paisley CID, as a raw DC, Donald was his DS. Not long after Daley’s promotion to DS in A-Division in Glasgow, Donald arrived as the all-powerful DCI. They were once described as star-crossed. He wished they weren’t.
The man who sat in front of him now bore hardly any resemblance to the foul-mouthed, overweight philistine of what
seemed like a very long time ago. Steadily Donald had ironed out all his imperfections. He stopped drinking, took up running, golf and squash, and consequently lost piles of weight. He spent a great deal of time abroad or under a sunbed, ensuring that his permanent tan was just that. Even his hair had undergone a transformation: gone were the thick black curls cut close to the scalp; now thinning, his gelled coiffure made him look like a hackneyed version of an East End gangster.
His manner had changed accordingly: the harsh accent of Glasgow’s East End was now modulated to the clipped tones of middle-class Bearsden, taking him much further socially than it had in geographic reality. His notorious temper was kept in check by sycophancy to superiors or aloof arrogance to those of a lesser rank. Yet Daley had never been in any doubt as to how thin this façade was; Donald was as notorious for his self-seeking ruthlessness as he was respected for being a mediocre police officer who had transformed himself into a truly talented administrator and political mover. The letters BA, LLB after his name bore testament to the hard work and determination it had taken to climb from the mire of a piss-poor childhood to his current middle-class comfort.
Donald signed the document with a flourish, then flamboyantly waved the paper in the air to dry the fountain-pen ink he had used. ‘Now, Di, don’t be frightened to bring in as many papers for me to sign as you want. My door is always open, you know.’ He leered at the young woman who nodded dutifully then left the room. ‘Now, Jim, sorry about that. Breaking in a new girl, so to speak. One long round of paperwork in here. Now where did I put that . . . Ah, here it is.’ He lifted a black file from the desk and removed what looked like a number of printed emails. ‘Bit of bother in our new
dominions. Kinloch, to be exact. There’s no point me blustering on, scan these and we’ll get on wi’ it.’
Daley noticed how the polished edge of his accent tarnished slightly once the secretary had gone. For many, this would have appeared to be an acknowledgement of their shared past; to Daley it was more an indication of how far down he was in the pecking order. Donald obviously felt there was little point in turning on the charm for his senior DI. He opened the file and began to browse its contents. After a few minutes he looked up from the papers and cleared his throat to divert Donald’s attention from the copy of
his superior was avidly consuming.
‘Oh, right, Jim. So, there you have it. Bit of a crisis down there in terms of manpower, and experience too. The subdivision is run by a teuchter called Charles MacLeod, a right little shit and the very worst kind of social climber. They have a DS who’s no more use than an ornament, and a few eager young DCs. Do you remember Davie Fraser from A-Division? His nephew Archie’s there.’
‘If he’s anything like his uncle, the pubs will be doing a fine trade.’ Daley had a sinking feeling in his stomach. Strathclyde Police had undergone yet another phase of reorganisation in an attempt to save money. His division had been amalgamated with what had been the old Argyll Constabulary, meaning that Paisley HQ was now responsible for parts of the west coast of Scotland that few could pronounce, never mind find on a map.
‘Quite so, Jim, quite so. Poor man. I think his liver is on the way out. Never met a man who loved a drink more.’ Donald looked rueful. ‘Anyway, I’m reliably informed his nephew is cut from entirely different cloth.’
Daley hoped so. His experience of Davie Fraser was having to follow him from bar to bar when he was a young cop, watching the man who was supposed to be showing him the ropes steadily becoming more inebriated and objectionable by turns.
‘Do you mind me asking what this has to do with me?’ He knew what the answer was going to be, but being direct would mean Donald would be unable to dollop his usual helping of sugar onto an unpalatable request.
‘Straight to the point, Inspector Daley. That’s what I like to hear.’
Daley had the impression that Donald was a bit disappointed, and would rather have had the chance to dish out his usual jargon on ‘duty’ and ‘chances for advancement’, the normal precursor to a shit job. ‘I need someone there with a bit of experience, to get this solved quickly and prove to those yokels that our way is the best way. Fuck knows, we’ll have to get them to toe the line somehow, and this affords us the perfect opportunity.’
‘So you want me down there, sir?’ Daley moved the conversation away from a lecture on the difference in policing methods between city and county divisions.
‘Yes, Jim. In fact, I’d like you down there first thing tomorrow morning. The body is on the way to the mortuary in Glasgow. That prick Crichton will do the necessary this evening at about seven, and I’d like you to be there.’
Daley paused momentarily to take this in. He was being sent to a far outpost of the empire to investigate a murder that could take forever, while the wayward Liz was at the other end of the country doing, well, he dreaded to think. ‘I see, sir. What about personnel?’ was all he could think of to say.
‘I have you booked on the first flight in the morning. You will of course be much better informed after the PM. Take a look on the ground yourself, then we’ll decide who we can spare to send down there with you. Take that file, and I’ll send anything else we’ve got downstairs. No doubt we can spare Tweedledum and a few other bodies should the situation require it.’ Donald had what could best be described as a strained relationship with DS Scott.
Daley’s mind returned to what he had read in the emails: a young woman, ligature, body dumped at sea, and a locus distant from usual amenities. This was not going to be an easy inquiry. ‘Have the Support Unit been informed yet, sir?’ He was referring to the group of elite Strathclyde officers who specialised in various disciplines now required of a modern police force: firearms, dog branch, crowd control, underwater unit and so on. Daley reckoned the underwater unit would be handy bearing in mind the circumstances of the death.
‘Not as yet, Jim. I think it wise to wait until we have some kind of result from the PM, no matter how preliminary. Of course, you realise, in terms of expenditure this is going to be a killer. We’ve already had a full SOCO team down there. The burden of expense falls to us, the investigating department. I hope you’ll bear that in mind when you’re on the ground?’
‘As you know, sir, cost is always at the forefront of my mind during every inquiry.’ Daley smiled, knowing his boss was well aware of his attitude to the bean counters many senior officers had been forced to become.
‘Luckily,’ said Donald, choosing to ignore the irony of the last statement, ‘because this is new territory, so to speak, we
are able to introduce a degree of flexibility into our spend. However, Jim, the pot is by no means bottomless. Please take that on board.’
Daley was about to make some sarcastic reply, when Donald continued on an entirely different subject without the need for an intake of breath. He, it seemed, had developed all the skills of the politician. ‘And how is Liz? Everything back to normal in that department?’
Daley bridled as a leer crossed Donald’s face. Only a few weeks had passed since Liz had flirted outrageously with the superintendent at a retirement party. The couple had rowed late into the night when they returned home, with Liz claiming that she was only trying to advance his career with a little ‘networking’ – yet another modern term he couldn’t stand. Anyway, Donald’s body language had made it abundantly clear that ‘networking’ was the last thing on his mind. The ever loyal DS Scott had administered a left hook to a colleague who had insinuated that something illicit was afoot.
‘Mrs Donald and I really must have you for dinner.’
Mrs Daley’s more likely to have you for breakfast, Daley thought, somewhat uncharitably.
‘Anyway, better get on, we both have plenty to do.’ The superintendent stood, hand outstretched. Daley shook it in acceptance of the dismissal. ‘Pick up your tickets from Kirsty next door – and don’t forget to keep me informed. Don’t take any shit off that little bastard MacLeod. Any trouble there and I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. Good hunting, Jim.’
It didn’t matter how long it had been since Daley’s last visit to Glasgow’s mortuary: it hadn’t been long enough. Part of the training of young police constables in years gone by had included at least one trip to this place to witness a post mortem. Around a dozen pale police officers would huddle around a bluff pathologist, as he hacked, cut, tore and drained, and generally showcased his talents in a way only the most strong of stomach could withstand. Daley had managed not to faint or to be sick, however, he had been in the minority. These incidents were so common that each muppet (as trainee cops were then affectionately known) would be given a paper bag and told to be ready to grab whoever was next to them, in the not unlikely event they passed out. The young PC who had stood next to Daley the first time was so traumatised that she left college that day, never to return.
Things had changed: brushed aluminium sheets replaced the badly grouted Victorian tiles that had served as wall covering; industrial carpet silenced the ominous tread of the cracked linoleum flooring; soft mood lighting illuminated, where once the harsh glow of humming striplights had served to augment a visceral scene of blood, shit and gore.
One thing that had not changed – not in the slightest – was the smell. The olfactory sense being as it is, Daley was instantly transported to his first visit every time he came here. A cloying, sickening mix of death, decay, disinfectant and refrigeration, it was a smell that, no matter how you tried, would be your unwelcome companion, an uninvited house guest, for days on end after departing this Faustian repository of hell on earth.
Not everyone was affected in the same way. Scott slouched along the corridors, untroubled by anxiety or the clammy odour. ‘Aye, an’ see if he doesna get another centre half – he can forget it.’ The DS was expostulating on his favourite subject: Rangers Football Club. ‘That fuckin’ keeper’s fuck a’ use an’ a’.’ From different sides of the west of Scotland sectarian divide, inspector and sergeant usually kept up a healthy banter on the subject of football. At the moment though, Scott found his interlocutor uncharacteristically silent. ‘Are ye followin’ me, Jim?’
The clatter of a large fire door being slammed shut startled both men and negated the need for an answer.
‘Well, well, if it’s not the dream team.’ The sarcasm was palpable. Another thing was unchanged from the first time Jim Daley had been to the mortuary, and the man was now trying to secure the fire door with one hand as he pocketed a black pipe into a short white coat pocket with the other: Chief Forensic Pathologist Andrew Crichton.
‘Still at the pipe, Andy? I dread to think what shape your lungs are in.’ Daley walked towards Crichton and slapped him on the back. ‘How are you keeping? Surely you must be past retirement age.’ He smiled affectionately at the older man.
‘One of the advantages of a professional career, Inspector Daley, is that one doesn’t have to retire in one’s forties and get a job delivering newspapers or doing odd jobs in order to make ends meet.’ Crichton was referring to the fact that most junior uniformed police officers retired after thirty years of service. Many would find themselves in rather menial employment, either from boredom or the pressing need to supplement an inadequate pension. In the CID, and from the rank of inspector and above, the situation was different: the higher grades regularly stayed well beyond thirty years in ‘The Job’. However, the forces were slowly encouraging ordinary cops to stay on as well, realising that there was truly no substitute for experience.
‘Aye, listen tae it.’ Scott adopted an expression of mock outrage. ‘It’ll be nae bother fir you tae get a wee part-time job. That butcher in Kilmacolm’s always needin’ help, an’ think, no reports tae write or fuck a’.’
‘I’m so glad those elocution lessons have finally paid off, Brian. Your ready turn of phrase never ceases to amaze me.’ Crichton surveyed the DS with a critical eye. ‘All that drink is having a devastating effect on your looks too. Good grief, man, you look like you’ve aged ten years in the last two.’
‘Cheeky bastard.’ Scott chuckled. ‘Anyhow, me an’ the boss haven’t a’ day for this. He’s gettin’ sent tae the wilds tomorrow.’
‘Well, gents, as you can no doubt discern with the use of your legendary detection skills and from the fragrant aroma of tobacco, I have been having a smoke. Really, nothing is sacred these days. My old professor never had a cigar out of his mouth when he performed a post mortem. Now, if you
light up within ten feet of the building, you’re liable to go down for ten years.’