Authors: Denzil Meyrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Crime
‘Aye, an’ you’ve aye been a stickler for the rulebook, Andy.’
Laughter filled the corridor as they headed for the pathology theatre. Two technicians were working on a body lying on a metal autopsy table. The room itself was dimly lit, however a large bank of lights suspended in a metal frame above the table illuminated the scene with ice-white precision.
‘Be so good as to put these on.’ An assistant had arrived bearing green aprons, masks and rubber overshoes. Crichton removed his white coat, then headed over to a large metal sink where he rolled up his shirt sleeves and soaped his hands and forearms, operating the taps with his elbows when he was finished. This done, he shrugged on his green rubber overall with a great deal more ease than the two police officers, both of whom had required the help of an assistant.
Now fully kitted out, the trio proceeded to the autopsy table where Daley recognised the blackened, bloated features of the deceased he had first seen on the emails in Donald’s office. The body cavity had been exposed; both sides of her ribcage and flesh were pinned back with large stainless-steel clamps. As usual Daley had to suppress an automatic gag reflex. Scott, meanwhile, took in the scene intently, eyes visible over his mask, which was moving in a less than flattering manner as he continued to chew an ever-present piece of gum.
‘Aye, you’ve made a good start, Andy.’ Scott’s eyes flicked from the eviscerated corpse to the pathologist.
‘When I heard who was in charge of this investigation, I thought I’d get the sawing over with before you got here.’
Daley could only imagine the broad grin hidden by the older man’s mask. ‘Right, progress so far . . . As you can see, we’ve managed a pretty comprehensive examination of the subject.’ Crichton was talking in a more businesslike manner now, rather like a dentist announcing to his nurse which teeth were to be filled. A large microphone hung down above the scene, ensuring no utterances from anyone around the table would be missed. ‘At first glance – despite one or two anomalies, which I will come to later – a straightforward strangulation. However, if I may draw your attention to this.’ Crichton moved down the corpse to the exposed right leg. ‘This mark around the ankle indicates restraint.’ He pointed to a band about two inches wide that encompassed the ankle. The skin here was a lighter hue than the rest of the body, which was turning black as the process of putrefaction began. ‘However, this mark was left on the body post mortem, so someone felt the need to tie her up even though she was dead.’ Without giving the officers time to take this in, or ask any questions, he pulled away the green sheet which had been covering the waist of the dead woman, to reveal a deep black gash that bisected the remains.
Daley could taste bile in the back of his throat.
‘Again, after death, the body suffered a major trauma, completed I am told by your colleagues in Kinloch, who saw fit to pull the subject apart like a Christmas cracker.’ Crichton looked towards Daley, laughter lines visible above his mask. ‘If you need a chair, please just ask, Jim.’
‘Very good, Andy.’ The inspector changed the subject quickly. ‘How – when – could that have happened?’
‘If you’re asking me to make a wild guess, I would say she was nearly cleft in two by a large, sharp metallic object – a
ship’s propeller, for example. The wound is precise and clean, which suggests to me a swift slice, rather than the kind of sawing or cutting that would have been required had manpower, or even a tool, been used. I’ll have to do more tests on the flesh surrounding the wound. That’ll take a couple of days though.’
‘Fuckin’ hell, this is some mess, Jim. You’d be better takin’ Sherlock Holmes doon wi’ ye, never mind me.’ As was his habit, Scott had displayed his uncanny knack of distilling the most complex of situations down to the lowest common denominator.
‘I must admit, in my many years as a forensic pathologist I’ve never encountered such circumstances. However, as I say, we have a number of lab tests yet to perform: stomach contents, other bodily fluids and so on. She definitely had sex within the last forty-eight hours, but I’ll be in a position to tell you more about that after the lab work.’
‘What do you mean, Andy?’ Daley was curious. He had known Crichton for so many years that he had become used to the nuances of his voice and presentation. He suspected the pathologist had discovered something significant.
‘Oh, merely a theory, nothing more. By the time you’ve had lunch down in Kinloch tomorrow I should be able to give you some answers.’ Suddenly Crichton raised his head from the body and looked at the police officers. ‘Wonderful place, Kinloch. An old friend of mine lives down there: great fishing, golf, fantastic scenery.’ He had a far-away look. ‘People are as mad as fuck, though.’
‘What are you, a shite tourist board?’ DS Scott, straight to the point. ‘Once you’re done wi’ the rough guide, mebbe you can tell us how long she’s been deid for.’
‘Well, immersion in water has made that more difficult, but I’d say no more than sixty, no less than twenty-eight hours. I’ll be able to be more precise within the next day or so.’
‘What about her age, Andy? Any distinguishing marks?’ Despite the gruesome surroundings, attending the post mortem had whetted Daley’s appetite for this investigation. He was intrigued now.
‘I was just coming to that. I would say she was between twenty-five and thirty. She gave birth within the last three years or so. Oh, and look at this.’ He moved the corpse’s right leg. On her inner thigh the letters ‘IS’ had been tattooed. ‘As you can see, not professional – ink and knife job if you ask me – and most unusual for a woman to let herself be disfigured in that way, don’t you think, gents?’
For once, DS Scott had nothing to say.
Daley hated waiting. He was sure that on his deathbed he would bitterly regret the hours, days and weeks he had spent in the limbo of being unable to do anything while waiting. In this particular instance Scott was fifteen minutes late, and although he would still easily make his flight, he fretted that the time he had added in lieu of any possible delay was fast disappearing. He looked around his lounge, noting that the décor, ornaments, furniture choices – even the photographs and paintings – were really all his wife’s work. Not for the first time, he felt like a stranger in his own home; it was an alien environment that bore witness to the tastes and comfort of another.
He remembered being a teenager: the posters on his wall, the black paint that had so infuriated his mother when she had discovered it adorning his bedroom, from floor to ceiling. He had painted his bedroom furniture white: black and white to match his taste in ska music. The music centre, that he had coveted for so long, sat on top of an old chest of drawers that his father had ‘acquired’, and a Roberts transistor radio dominated his bedside table. The rest of the small space was occupied by an ancient anglepoise lamp and whatever book he happened to be reading at the time. He had managed
to cobble together a low cabinet, which contained his records and tapes, all stored in alphabetical order. He remembered making compilation tapes that he gave his father to play on the car stereo whenever they embarked upon one of the epic journeys that were the precursor to visiting some ancient relative. All this had been his pride and joy, an indication to anyone who cared to wonder that he was now an adult who had his own likes and dislikes – his personality encapsulated by a few sticks of rough furniture, poorly applied paint and low-end hi-fi equipment. Nothing special, but his. Even his eventual choice of career had reflected the black-and-white obsession.
Standing now in his expensive home, in one of the well-appointed ‘reception’ rooms graced with the cream of soft furnishings and contemporary art, a stark realisation that he had allowed his personality to be subsumed by the tastes and whims of Liz dawned. This room – in fact, the whole house – was someone else’s stage, a stage on which he was merely one of an ensemble, an insignificant and unaccredited player. He shied away from acceptance of the fact that this relationship was consuming his soul; that his reason for being was increasingly entwined and predicated on his dynamic with an individual he felt he was growing further from every day.
Unnecessarily, Scott was sounding his horn as he drove up the short gravel drive, and bawling, ‘C’mon, you! You’ll miss that bloody flight if we don’t get a fuckin’ shift on.’
Daley pushed the front door twice, checking it was properly closed, walked down the three front steps and opened the door to Scott’s car. The acrid smell of cigarette smoke hit
him like a wave of unwelcome nausea as he eased himself into the passenger seat. ‘You know, Brian, this car is a complete health hazard.’
‘Fuck me, I’m good enough tae take ye tae the airport, an’ a’ ye can dae is gie me a hard time. Ye’ve been a right pain in the arse since ye stopped smoking, d’ye know that?’ Scott stubbed his cigarette out in the overflowing ashtray with exaggerated vigour and involuntarily coughed the deep, unhealthy rasp of the diehard smoker.
‘See? When you’re in the oxygen tent you’ll wish you’d done the same as me and given up. How do you think I managed to afford that big plasma TV you like so much?’
Scott coughed out a string of expletives as they drove towards the main road. Daley realised that he had become difficult since quitting fags. He definitely did not miss the hacking cough, the bad breath and the huge amount of money they relieved you of in the course of a year; he hadn’t even suffered any noticeable sign of withdrawal. No, his post-smoking self had developed a visceral hatred of cigarettes, something he supposed the body prompted in order to protect this new nicotine-free existence.
Scott broke the spell. ‘Mind you met my brother, Willie, at the fitba’?’ Daley grunted in the affirmative. ‘Aye, well, I’d forgotten he wiz doon there workin’ aboot three years ago. He’s a sparky, mind?’
‘I remember he swears more than you. I didn’t think that was possible. Anyway, how did he like Kinloch?’
‘Fuck me, we had tae wring his liver oot wi’ a mangle when he came back. He says they’re a’ near daft doon there. The wife reminded me last night, you know, when I says I might be goin’ doon for a while. A’ mad wi’ the drink, fightin’ their
ain shadows, an’ close-knit tae. I’m thinking yer in fir a fuckin’ hard time wi’ that mob, for sure.’
Daley looked out at the leaden sky as he pondered Scott’s theories on Kinloch society. Small communities were always difficult places in which to carry out an investigation. However, in a way, all investigations took place within one community or another, whether it be a housing estate, tower block, office or ethnic enclave. Glasgow’s Asian and Chinese communities were notoriously difficult to infiltrate, and as for some of the schemes – well, he didn’t expect Kinloch could be any worse.
As they neared the airport, large signs announced a change to parking procedures around the terminal buildings. In fact, it was more appropriate to say you couldn’t drive anywhere near them. An attack on the airport by terrorists with a car full of gas canisters had put paid to that. As a young cop Daley had worked for nearly six months at Glasgow Airport. In those carefree days all the police had worried about was where they could get a free coffee, or where best to view young holidaymakers as they navigated their scantily dressed way through the terminal. Now, well, things were different. Even here, on Paisley’s doorstep, he was aware of a change in attitude. People viewed anyone remotely Asian or Arabic in appearance as a potential threat. The landlord of his local in Howwood had implored him to look carefully at the soles of the shoes of any suspicious-looking passengers. ‘Think aboot it,’ he said, ‘when wiz the last time anybody looked at your shoes when you checked onto a flight? It’s obvious, Jim.’ Since then Daley had to make a conscious effort not to stare at fellow passengers’ footwear. Maybe people were right to be suspicious; perhaps
danger was ever present. It was undeniable that the world had changed for good.
Scott dropped him as near to the terminal building as was humanly possible, and Daley made his way along walkways crammed with pale-skinned travellers, chatting excitedly as they made their way into the airport, or their tanned, more subdued counterparts, returning to the greyness of reality from holiday idylls. The scent of cool rain on warm tarmac mixed with the heady odour of aviation fuel and car fumes permeated the air. He’d never liked any kind of terminal building: whether it be train, bus or airport. It was not that they were large, often busy, usually impersonal places; no, it was the air of melancholy that inhabited them. To him, they spoke too loudly of parting, of sorrow: people saying goodbye. Not for him thoughts of a mother greeting a long-lost child, or lovers reuniting; these buildings were filled with a resonance of something coming to an end. Without meaning to, he thought of Liz.
He made his way to the check-in where his boarding pass was issued and his luggage processed. The check-in girl reminded him of the fragrant secretaries who populated Donald’s floor of the station. He pondered how many women were passed over for work just because they were not in possession of the requisite looks; life was as unfair as it was ridiculous.
He ambled to the departure gate via a newsagent, where he bought a paper. A quick scan of the front page revealed that, inevitably, the press had got hold of the Kinloch murder story. No doubt he would have to appear at a press conference at some point – something he loathed. He wished he
had chosen to wear a different tie and resolved to change it at the earliest opportunity.
Daley couldn’t help smiling on discovering that the same girl who had checked him in was now collecting his boarding pass. She noticed his amusement. ‘We’re a small operation, sir. Everyone has to pitch in.’ He detected an unusual lilt to her voice; not the singsong of a Highland accent, nor the upward intonation of the Central Belt – something different, with longer vowels and a more laconic pace.
A bus took them out to the runway. At first he thought they would drive past this mini-plane, until they pulled up and another uniformed flight attendant entered and ushered them from the vehicle towards the aircraft. Daley was normally a confident flier, but he was unprepared for the cramped cabin he now entered, hunched over, walking sideways like a crab. The flight attendant showed him to a window seat on the right-hand side of the aisle. As he adjusted his belt he heard a stream of expletives issuing from two youths who were seated in front of him. The young men were not being intentionally offensive; in the west of Scotland punctuation was gradually being replaced by curses. He and Liz had recently spent a weekend in York, and he remembered being surprised by the absence of swearing. Even the small pub in the Marygate, close to their hotel, offered a warm welcome in an oath-free zone. Along with good beer, it made a pleasant change from the raucous, febrile ambience prevalent in the boozers he frequented.