Read Whisky From Small Glasses Online

Authors: Denzil Meyrick

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

Whisky From Small Glasses (35 page)

BOOK: Whisky From Small Glasses
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Donald was busy consulting the force psychologist; Daley was trusting his instinct. Yet . . . he couldn’t shake off a persistent doubt, and neither could his grizzled DS. Scott was not behaving the way he did when the end of a difficult case was in sight. He had none of the insouciance of a policeman who would shortly be celebrating the cracking of a particularly difficult case. Daley knew how he felt.

‘Sir, it’s the old folks’ home for you.’ DC Dunn poked her head around the office door. ‘They called my mobile for some reason. Will I fling them a deafie?’ The young woman seemed as though a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. The death of Fraser was still a raw experience that bore down particularly hard on the younger investigating officers. The revelations about Newell and Johnstone promised resolution and respite from this: a chance for everyone to move on.

‘No. Tell them I’ll call back in a few moments. Thank them for getting in touch and tell them I apologise for not coming when I said I would.’ He resolved to go and see the old woman, if only as a courtesy.

Scott reappeared back in the glass box. ‘It’s a Land Rover in they photos from the CCTV, Jim,’ he enthused. ‘They’re trying tae pin doon the colour up the road, but they reckon it’s an older model, maybe late 1980s, early 1990s. I’ve asked a couple o’ oor boys tae see whether they know of any examples here. What dae ye think the chances are?’ There was doubt in his voice.

This was a rural area, so it made sense that more people would drive that type of vehicle. Of course, even if they pinned down the identity of the Land Rover’s owner, it was still uncertain as to whether he was involved with the crimes or merely engaging in conversation. ‘Who knows, Brian? Whoever owns it, I want to speak to them. We’re treading
water here anyway. Everything’s happening out at sea, so we’ve nothing to lose, eh?’

‘Aye, you’re right again, compadre.’

It always amused Daley the way Scott managed to append so many designations to him in the course of a day, and in so many languages.

‘A’ this sittin’ aboot’s makin’ me jumpy. I think I’ll go an’ gie the lads a hand.’ Scott left Daley alone in his glass world.

‘Wait!’ shouted Daley. ‘The Newells have a Land Rover.’ Suddenly, all Daley could see in his mind’s eye was his wife – out at sea and vulnerable.

Liz was sitting on a rock scanning the horizon. She had seen nothing of interest since they had arrived on the island and she was trying to remain stoical. Not losing heart was the key.

Seanessy was in the shack working at something with a hammer. She was aware of him peering from time to time over the small rise that lay between them. She was starting to feel hungry, but her backpack was in the shack where Seanessy had stowed everything to keep them ‘safe’, though safe from what, she wasn’t quite sure. She decided to give it another fifteen minutes or so.

‘I’m so sorry I’ve not had the chance to call in yet. Things keep cropping up, as you can appreciate . . .’ Daley was on the phone to the retirement home. ‘Yeah, I should be there within the hour. Thanks again for your patience.’ He put the phone down. The wheels of the machine were cranking along here. He checked for his mobile in the inside pocket of his jacket, then tried to remember where the keys to his pool car were.

*

Seanessy hastily exited the cottage as Liz walked past the small jetty.

‘Feeling a bit peckish,’ she shouted to Seanessy. ‘Time for a bite to eat. My backpack’s in there, isn’t it?’

‘Don’t worry. I’ll get that for you,’ he said hesitantly.

Liz was only a few yards away now. She shrugged her shoulders. ‘OK, thanks. I’ll take a seat on the jetty.’ She watched him go back into the small building. He was squeezing himself through the doorway, as though something was preventing the door from opening fully. Strange man, she thought. He was so keen to impress.

‘Aye, well, you make sure you don’t get up tae any nonsense wi’ them auld folk. They’ll fleece ye at a hand o’ dominoes.’ Scott was busy writing a report of his involvement in the case so far. They had what was thought to be a sighting of Newell’s RIB off the Ayrshire coast, thirty minutes earlier, but the trail had gone cold. Daley had spoken to the officer in charge of the search, who was of the opinion that, assuming the men knew they were being pursued, hiding along Scotland’s rocky coastline would be a relatively simple task. However, the sailor was convinced that time and patience were the key to flushing out the suspects. After all, they would have to eat, and the craft would need to be refuelled at some point.

Daley was well used to the waiting game: every policeman was. It was bred into the very bones of the profession. He surveyed the scene in the large CID office. Radio traffic involving the searchers at sea was being monitored by a feed through loudspeakers on the wall. Intermittently, Donald could be heard offering words of advice, or making banal enquiries. Daley was convinced that this was merely for show
and that he was determined to appear at the heart of the chase, even though desk-bound in Kinloch. All the radio transmissions were being recorded as a matter of course, and Donald was making sure his involvement was to the fore – or appeared to be.

Daley left the office. Momentarily, he considered telling Donald where he was going but soon realised that to be a fruitless exercise as his superior was too busy in the pursuit of glory via the Royal Navy and the deep blue sea.

Liz sat at the edge of the water eating a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. Seanessy was busy removing a coil of rope from the boat. He glanced at her and smiled momentarily. He seemed to relish the chores he’d set himself on the little skerry.

He passed on his way back to the cottage and said, ‘Running repairs. Have to take every opportunity to get these things done when the weather is right.’ He hurried back up the rough path as Liz pondered what ‘running repairs’ might require a length of rope.

The glint of the sea suddenly dulled as a cloud passed over the sun. Liz shivered involuntarily and noticed goose pimples on her forearms.

The road to the retirement home was winding and narrow. Hugging the coast, it was dotted with little bays resplendent with pure white sand. On the other side of the road rose a thick pine forest with little clearings occupied by houses or gateways to forestry tracks. He was listening to The Police song ‘Every Breath You Take’ and his thoughts turned to Liz. He remembered dancing with her to the song in a Paisley
nightclub. He tried to work out how many years ago it had been and failed. It seemed like a lifetime ago – and, strangely, someone else’s lifetime. His world was so different, had changed so much in the last few years.

The signpost read
FIRDALE
. Daley slowed down and started looking for the home. DC Dunn had given him rough directions; there was the church on his right, then the village hall. By his reckoning, he needed to take the next right.

Liz spotted movement in the water to her right, coupled with the grey flash of wet flesh arching through the waves. ‘Mr Seanessy! We’ve got a bottlenose, I think.’ She put down her binoculars and bent down to find the dolphin on her camera, now rigged to the tripod.

She heard a muffled voice coming from the shack as she scanned the scene with her naked eye. There it was again, directly in front of her and about thirty yards from the shoreline. She aligned the camera to that area just as the dolphin reappeared, and with her left hand pressed the button. She missed the old automatic cameras, the whir of the shutter. It just wasn’t the same with digital, the experience somehow lessened.

Liz was aware of footsteps behind her; the distracting presence of Seanessy while she was trying to concentrate hard on getting the short. There was a strange noise – a humming like that of the old fluorescent lights everyone used to have in their kitchens. She stood back from the camera in order to examine the source of the sound. Wouldn’t it be typical for something to go wrong with the equipment just as she was about to . . .

She felt a sharp pain in the small of her back, like a sting from an insect or the prick of a needle. A split second later,
her body began to convulse in pain, the like of which she had never felt before. She was falling but could do nothing to stop herself. Her limbs would simply not obey her mental commands. Even her eyes were blurred. Her vision was shot through with sparks and flashes. She fell to the ground heavily. And her world went black.

Daley was led down a carpeted corridor by a young care worker who chatted amiably as they walked. She told the detective how hard they worked to let residents feel that they had their own space in the home; each had a patio door leading out onto a communal garden, which they could access at any time of the day or night, unless of course they had medical problems where this was inadvisable. ‘Mrs Sneddon’s a fine old woman.’ She intoned this with a more sing-song accent than prevailed in Kinloch. ‘A bit confused at times, because of her condition, you understand, but otherwise really nice and friendly . . . It’s so sad to see them getting worse, you know, kind of losing who they are. That’s a terrible way to end your life, don’t you think?’ She looked at the policeman, her face tinged with sadness.

Daley nodded, recalling how his own grandmother had gradually lost her sense of self after three massive strokes. He would go to visit her with his mother every Sunday in the geriatric ward of the local hospital. Not a pleasant, bright place like the one he was walking through now: it had been cold and stank of antiseptic, age and shit. Rows of old people in various stages of decline lined the sides of the ward in metal-framed beds, each with a small bedside cabinet on which a tray and a plastic glass were placed, alongside the few meagre possessions they were permitted to retain. Everything
was impersonal, stripped of any kind of homely familiarity. Those who were lucky enough to be visited regularly by friends and relatives boasted vases of fresh flowers by their beds; many, though, lay alone day after day, often too frail to make the short walk down the corridor to the toilet and having to suffer the indignity of shitting in a cardboard potty, with only curtains pulled hastily around the bed for privacy.

He could remember how sometimes the nurses would neglect to close those drapes sufficiently; the look of shame on the face of one old man, as he squatted on the bed trying to go, his hand held by an impatient nurse, her lip curled in distaste. He would always come away from those visits with the vague impression that those like his grandmother, who had lost so much of herself, were actually the lucky ones. Not for them the parade of indignity as they lay alone watching the large clock on the wall inexorably tick down what remained of their lives. Where there was no sense, there was no feeling, as his mother often said, fighting back tears as they left.

This place was different. Paintings lined the walls of the corridor: local scenes, or the paint and crayon creations of children, all adorned with names and ages. Easy chairs and bookcases filled with popular romances and well-known thrillers lined the corridor.

The nurse stopped at a door marked with the number ten and a small nameplate that read
MRS M
.
SNEDDON
. She cleared her throat and knocked on the door lightly. ‘Madeleine, it’s the policeman I was telling you about.’ She turned the handle, opened the door and poked her head through the gap. ‘Ah, you’re decent. Is it OK for Mr Daley to come in?’

A muffled ‘yes’ prompted the young nurse to open the door wide and then step back to let the detective enter.

A thin woman sat in a high-backed chair, with a woollen patchwork blanket over her knees. The room was bright and airy. French windows, slightly ajar, opened onto a garden which was reaching full bloom. The scent of newly mown grass and flowers filled the space with a glorious aroma. No stink of shit or lack of privacy here.

‘Hello, Mrs Sneddon.’ Daley remained standing, despite the nurse’s indication that he should sit on the couch. ‘Do you mind if I take a seat?’

‘Nah, son, be my guest.’ Her accent was Glaswegian.

He sat down, and looked out of the French windows. ‘Lovely view you have here, Mrs Sneddon.’

‘Aye, no’ bad, no’ bad. Ca’ me Madeleine, by the way, son.’

‘Would you like a cup of tea or coffee, Mr Daley?’ said the nurse.

‘Yes, please, coffee if you don’t mind. It’s the only thing that keeps me awake, Madeleine. Do you know what I mean?’

‘Ye canna beat a nice cup o’ tea, son. No, I love ma tea, dae I no’, Maggie?’ She lifted her head towards the nurse. ‘Make sure you gie the constable wan o’ my special biscuits noo.’ She held up a bony finger by way of making her point.

‘You know why I’m here, Madeleine?’

Momentarily she looked confused, then realisation spread over her face. ‘The wee lassie . . . whit’s her name . . . och.’ She shook her head in frustration.

‘Isobel. Izzy.’

‘Aye, right enough. Izzy.’ She shook her head again and looked at him with a resigned expression. ‘I hope yer no’
going tae tell me she’s been plunkin’ the school again. She’s a wee rascal, so she is.’

Daley knew that the staff had told Mrs Sneddon what had happened to her granddaughter, but that she didn’t seem able to accept or retain the information.

Maggie handed him a mug of coffee. ‘Do you take sugar?’

‘No, just milk, thanks.’ He patted his stomach by way of an explanation and grinned at Mrs Sneddon. ‘Watching my weight.’

‘Away wi’ ye.’ Madeleine looked animated. ‘Yer a braw-lookin’ young man, right enough.’ She let out a cackle, then coughed asthmatically. ‘A’ these skinny malinks ye see the day. Sure the constable’s just lovely, Maggie?’

‘You’ll take a biscuit though?’ Maggie offered him a tartan tin containing small shell-shaped biscuits. ‘You like them because they’ve got the same name as you, eh, Madeleine?’

They chatted about the home, Madeleine telling him how much she liked the place. Daley took a couple of the biscuits, recognising them from his trips to France, and looked around the room as he took the first sip of his coffee. In a display cabinet were some framed photographs, mostly black-and-white, though some in colour looked like old school photos.

BOOK: Whisky From Small Glasses
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