Authors: Denzil Meyrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Crime
Momentarily the young men fell silent as a small, middle-aged Asian man was shown to a seat at the front of the
aircraft. A snort of suppressed laughter indicated that they had registered his presence. ‘Fuck me, Bobby, start saying your prayers. That cunt’s probably got a bomb up his arse.’ Daley contemplated intervening but was beaten to it by the flight attendant. ‘Right you, Camel Johnstone, any mair o’ that an’ the only arse you’ll need tae worry about is yer ain as it bounces off the tarmac when I throw you off the plane. Understand?’
Daley smiled. This was not the type of approach he was used to from airline staff, however it proved most effective as both young men were now quiet and had adopted slightly embarrassed expressions. He had noticed the long vowels again, both from the boys and the attendant; this was, no doubt, the Kinloch accent.
He repressed feelings of claustrophobia as the engines burst into life and the plane began to taxi slowly along the runway. Without warning it rose sharply from the ground, engines straining to get them airborne. Daley’s heart missed a beat as the engine noise dropped suddenly when they attained the required height. A grey curtain at the front of the aircraft was flung open, revealing the cockpit where one pilot was seated and another stood hunched with a radio mic in his hand, ready to address the passengers.
‘Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, aye, an’ you, Camel Johnstone . . . We’ll be flying at a height of fifteen hundred feet for most of the journey, which will last around twenty-five minutes. The weather in Kinloch is much the same as in Glasgow, so we’ll be taking the scenic route over Arran, then down the Kintyre peninsula. If you have any questions, please address them to our lovely flight attendant, Morag. I’m Lieutenant Moran, and your pilot today is Captain
Witherspoon. Thank you for flying Scotia Airways. Morag will now take you through the safety procedures.’
As she stood up, the flight attendant obscured the young pilot as he retreated into the cockpit. After jumping involuntarily, she announced perfunctorily the usual list of safety instructions. Daley guessed that Lieutenant Moran had nipped her arse through the curtain, though her expression gave nothing away. He looked lazily out of the window: cotton-wool wisps of cloud floated above a patchwork of tiny fields and the grey snake of roads beneath. Bright sunlight glanced from the silver wing of the plane, making Daley wish he had brought the fancy designer sunglasses Liz had so proudly presented him with at Christmas.
The fields were soon replaced by an iron-grey sea, flecked with the white tips of waves. Daley thought the sea looked out of place; too cold for what was a warm spring day. He shuddered at the thought of the corpse of the young woman floating in this forbidding expanse of water. He had always been wary of the sea; though he swam well, he restricted his aquatic pursuits to indoor swimming pools. The sea seemed too big, too unfathomable, filled with the unexpected and unknown. He had read that humans knew more about the surface of Mars than the hidden depths of the ocean, and it didn’t surprise him at all.
His thoughts drifted back to Liz. He had managed to get her on the mobile late the previous evening. Despite ringing since six and leaving several messages, she seemed surprised by his call. The noise of a pub – clinking glasses, loud music, exaggerated laughter – was the backdrop to their conversation. She greeted his news about the Kinloch investigation
with the platitudes he supposed she felt were her dutiful responsibility:
I’ll miss you . . . hope you won’t be away long . . . oh, the house will be so empty
. All the time he could hear muffled voices and suppressed laughter; it was like a teenager talking to a worried parent from a uni bar while being taunted by friends.
Amongst the conspiratorial mumbles there had been a familiar voice: Mark Henderson. Husband of Liz’s sister, Jill. Mark and him had hated each other from the word go. In fact mutual friends would often comment how mismatched both couples were. Mark was more like Liz: haughty, dismissive, immodest, sly, vengeful, superficial, good-looking, and extremely clever. It appeared to many that the sisters had married the wrong men. Jill, though almost identical to Liz in a long-limbed, languid way, had a much more reticent nature. The younger sibling by two years, she lacked Liz’s supreme confidence, which, accidentally perhaps, had imbued her with greater empathy and sensitivity. She could almost mirror the role Daley played in his marriage. Mark was a notorious philanderer, having been a more than willing participant in a number of affairs. He worked as a corporate lawyer for an international firm of accountants: two of the slippiest professions under one roof. Who was less trustworthy? The accountant constantly seeking the loophole and the uncrossed ‘T’, or the lawyer who watched his back?
Daley was fond of Jill. He was able to gauge by the way she looked at Mark how devoted she was, and he sensed the pain and devastation caused by her husband’s infidelity. Once, they had spoken about it on a Portuguese beach, sitting in a secluded bay watching Mark and Liz’s
horseplay in the sea. ‘Do you think they’ve slept together?’ Her question was sudden and shocking. Daley realised that he had often wondered the same thing, but he’d done what he always did with unpalatable thoughts about his wife: he banished them. ‘No, they’re too alike to be attracted to each other,’ he had lied. He remembered the quizzical smile that had crossed her face by way of a reply. After that, they had kept their own counsel on the matter, each aware of the bitter unspoken truth and unwilling to grant it the life of acknowledgement.
Jill and Mark did share something that it seemed he and Liz would never have: a child. Beth was their pride and joy. She shared her mother’s long legs and easy grace, had her father’s round, intelligent face, which framed deep, watchful blue eyes, slightly turned down at the corners. A nest of curly hair crowned her three-year-old head and hung in tangled ringlets when her mother let it grow. She had, as Daley’s mother used to say, ‘been here before’. Talking fluently before she was two, she combined tireless mischief with quick thought and flawless parody. When Daley visited, she grabbed her favourite Noddy book, climbed on his knee, and demanded to be read to. She chuckled her way through a story with him, mimicking the voices he used for various characters. He didn’t envy Mark Henderson his money, his board-level career, big house, fancy car, even the fact that he had probably had his wife: no, he coveted his daughter, dearly wishing that the beautiful little girl could be his own.
Liz, it seemed, had no intention of ever having a child. The five S’s she called it: screams, shits, sick, sleeplessness and stretch marks. ‘Bugger that. Who in their right mind would
want a baby?’ Her attitude to children was encapsulated in those few words.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, we have just emerged from some cloud cover. Below, you can see the east coast of the Kintyre peninsula.’ The uninviting grey sea had been replaced by a low rocky coastline, dotted at intervals with white sandy beaches. To Daley’s untrained eye, the landscape looked more verdant than it had twenty minutes before, as though the fecundity of the season was somehow at a more advanced stage here.
‘Everything OK?’ Morag was making her way up the aisle, tending to her temporary charges, holding a small basket filled with brightly wrapped sweets. Daley had developed a sweet tooth since he’d stopped smoking, something he blamed for his recent weight gain. So, inevitably, as the confectionery was waved under his nose he chose two sweets, being careful to avoid the gold-wrapped toffees that had been responsible for him losing a filling last Christmas.
The chimneys and rooftops of a small town could be discerned now; Daley guessed this was the fabled Kinloch. As though to confirm this, the intercom burst into crackling life once more: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see we are approaching our destination: Kinloch. We will be landing in around five minutes or so. Please ensure that you remain seated and that your seatbelts remain secured.’ The buildings below were becoming more distinct; unexpectedly grey, he thought. The street pattern of what looked like tenement buildings reminded him of Paisley. Unlike most seaside towns built around the front, it looked as though Kinloch’s streets were at right angles to the loch around which the town sprawled.
The pitch of the engines changed again as the plane began its descent over an airfield that looked to be only a few fields away from the town. The hangars and other airfield buildings bore a distinctly military feel, though Daley could not see any matching aircraft. From some distance along the runway, a red fire appliance could just be made out speeding towards their likely landing point. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent into Kinloch Airport. Please remain seated, with your seat belts fastened. May I take this opportunity to thank you again for travelling Scotia Airways and hope that you enjoy your time with the colourful residents of the area.’ That had been said with tongue firmly placed in cheek. Daley wondered just how ‘colourful’ this place and these people could be. In any event he was about to find out.
The plane bumped down noisily onto the runway with a screech of skidding tyres and creaks and groans of the undercarriage, and taxied a short distance to a small terminal building. A green light flashed in time to a dinging alarm from the intercom, indicating that it was safe for the passengers to remove their seatbelts and begin the stooped crab-walk down the aisle and out of the plane.
Morag stood slightly hunched at the exit, handing passengers carefully onto the plane’s steps, as an identically dressed colleague stood at the bottom of the stairs repeating this function. The two were carrying on a shouted dialogue in the long vowels he was now sure belonged to the natives of Kinloch. Daley ducked through the exit door and down the few steps onto the tarmac. The tang of the sea was strong. The temperature seemed higher and there was a freshness to the air here. He inhaled deeply, already relishing being away from the stuffy air of the city.
A gaunt man in his late fifties stood in the doorway of the terminal building, examining passengers’ identity documents. As Daley got to the front of the small queue, and before he could produce his warrant card, the man held up his hand, indicating that the policeman need not bother.
‘You’ll be fine, Inspector Daley,’ he said in the musical lilt of the Hebrides. ‘There’s a boy out the front to pick you up.’ Junior officers were often described by cops of old as boys. This, coupled with the man’s demeanour, led Daley to comment, ‘How’s retirement treating you?’ He smiled knowingly at the man.
‘Aye, good, very good, Inspector. Lachie Bain, thirty years before the mast, and heartily glad not to be before it any more.’ He held out a large hand for Daley to shake.
‘Jim Daley, but you know that already.’
Now it was time for the older man to smile. He had a broad, infectious grin, though Daley suspected that it was not something he did very often. ‘Aye, well, as you’ll find out yourself, old habits die hard. I saw your name on the passenger list, and anyhow this is Kinloch. The whole town will likely know you’re on your way, aye, and why you’re here.’
‘Like that is it? Looks like a reasonably sized place. I didn’t expect gossip to be so rife.’
Bain laughed again, this time tossing his head back in mirth. ‘It’s the biggest gossip hole this side of Benbecula, aye, and vicious with it. If you ever need a friendly ear, I’m in the bar of the County Hotel about half five most days – after the last flight. Only for an hour or so, you understand,’ he said, with a serious look.
‘Thanks, I’ll certainly remember that, but I think I’ll have my hands pretty full. I needn’t tell you . . .’
Bain held his hand up again. ‘Och, no doubt you’ll not have troubles to seek, but you’ll be billeted there anyway. Mind, all work and no play . . .’
Daley grinned as he headed into the terminal to collect his bags. It was already clear that there were few secrets in Kinloch.
A tall, well-built red-headed young man was sitting on the bonnet of what Daley recognised immediately as a CID car.
‘Inspector Daley, I’m DC Fraser.’ The man held out his hand to greet the senior officer. ‘Hope your trip was OK. It can get a bit hairy on that wee plane when the wind’s up. Not so bad today though.’
Daley noted the similarities between Fraser and his infamous uncle: while both men were tall, heavily built, with red hair, the young officer in front of him bore no sign of the debauchery that had marked out his uncle. Indeed, he looked like the kind of cop you’d be glad to have at your side going in to sort out a pub brawl in Paisley, not one of the undersized graduates who seemed to be favoured by force recruitment these days. ‘Hello, DC Fraser. I used to work with your Uncle Davie. How’s he doing by the way? I heard he hadn’t been too great.’
‘Eh, don’t hold that against me, sir. He’s on the waiting list for a liver transplant, and I don’t suppose I need to tell you why.’ Fraser looked ruefully at the inspector.
‘Ach, don’t worry, son. There’s a lot worse than Davie cloaking about,’ Daley lied. ‘You’re getting a bit of a reputation yourself, tearing murder victims in half.’ He smiled
benevolently at the DC, quite sure that the young man had heard plenty of that particular incident.
Fraser’s face turned a deep crimson as he stooped to pick up the inspector’s bags and put them into the open boot of the car. ‘Eh, would you like to drive, sir? Our boss always insists on driving if he’s in the motor.’
‘No, no, take the wheel, DC Fraser. This’ll be Inspector MacLeod you’re talking about?’
‘Yes, sir.’ Daley noted his colleague’s raised eyebrow. ‘He has his, eh, routines, so to speak.’
They both got into the car, and leaving the small airport car park, headed along a single-track road. ‘How far’s the town?’ said Daley, remembering to switch his mobile back on after the flight, and noticing, with a twinge of dismay, that he had a missed call from Liz.
‘Oh, only about four miles, sir – we’ll soon be on the main drag. Have you been here before?’