Authors: Denzil Meyrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Crime
‘Yes, sir. Do you want to check into the hotel en route? It’s on the way.’
‘Not just now, Archie. Get one of the uniforms to take my bags down, and tell them I’ll want some food later. I fancy a stroll down to the pier. It’s a nice day after all, and I want to try and get a feel of the place.’
They left the station, passed the local court and some lawyers’ offices, and then headed down Main Street, Kinloch.
‘Well, at least the office is close to the court. No excuse if you’re late, mind you.’ Daley spoke easily with Fraser, sensing that he had already gained the younger man’s trust. He felt sympathy for the DC; having to deal with the peccadilloes of MacLeod could not be easy.
‘Aye, sir, the town centre is pretty compact. It’s mostly over this side of the loch, and mainly residential over the other side. A few shops, a hotel, nothing much.’
‘Hello, Inspector!’ Two elderly women were shuffling towards them, arm in arm. ‘We’re all glad you’ve come down to sort this out. What a dreadful, dreadful crime.’ The plumper woman, who was short with round glasses, was doing the talking; her thin, white-haired companion was nodding furiously, drawing in sharp breaths by way of agreement with her friend.
‘Thank you, ladies.’ Good PR was essential in isolated areas, but it was clear that he would have no need to announce his arrival to anybody. ‘I hope that if you hear anything you’ll tell my officers – no matter how trivial.’ He smiled indulgently at the pair.
‘Oh, don’t you worry, Inspector, we’re well acquainted with your handsome constable. You could say he’s a drinking companion of ours. Is that not right, Archie?’ The plump old woman smiled broadly at the DC, displaying an assortment of brown teeth in various stages of decay, whilst her companion continued to nod sagely, drawing her breath in as occasion demanded.
Daley wondered just how many shades of red his colleague’s face was capable of displaying, as they made their excuses and continued down the street. ‘Nothing to be embarrassed about, son. When I was your age I liked them a wee bit older too.’
Fraser turned suddenly, about to reassure his new boss that he only saw the old women in the pub now and then, when, by the look on Daley’s face, he realised he was being wound up. ‘Oh, very good, sir. Aye, very good.’
The day was warmer still, as it was now mid-afternoon. They made their way through what was now the town’s centre, passing the County Hotel where Daley was to be accommodated. Like many others in Kinloch, the building was red sandstone, however a faux Juliet balcony and equally contrived crenellations had been included in the architecture, in an attempt to give the hotel a Scottish Baronial feel. If failing in that regard, it did ensure that the façade was difficult to miss.
As they progressed, they were greeted with nods and hellos. A group of smokers outside one of the many bars regaled them with shouts of ‘Here’s the cavalry’ and ‘Fuck me, a proper polis in the toon at last’. Unperturbed, the pair crossed a well-tended roundabout and made their way to one of Kinloch’s two piers.
The air was a heady mix of ozone, fish and the diesel fumes emitted by a small number of wooden fishing boats. The raucous shouts of crewmen, radios playing music – all drum ’n’ bass – and swooping, squawking seagulls wheeling, diving, made for a din. Daley surmised that their arrival had coincided with the fishing boats landing their catch of the day. He was instantly transported back to his childhood, standing on this very pier with his grandparents: his granny, short, bustling and stout, and his grandfather a thin, almost skeletal figure, tall for his time and dressed in keeping with the period, in an old grey suit, the trousers of which were held up by thick maroon braces. Papa George laughed wheezily as he drew on a Capstan Full Strength. To the young Daley he had seemed like an old man; in fact he was destined not to see his fifty-seventh birthday, his lungs wrecked by years of heavy smoking and a lifetime spent down the coalpits of North Lanarkshire.
Daley walked slowly over to the side of the pier and planted his foot on an iron stanchion built into the side of the construction that allowed boats to affix extra moorings in case of bad weather. Dark, oily water lapped at the jetty. The afternoon was warm, scent laden – almost idyllic. He looked out over the water to the head of the loch, which was about a mile away. His thoughts returned to the investigation and he shivered involuntarily as he turned to Fraser. ‘The people here might be a bit dodgy, but the scenery is beautiful.’
They made their way along the pier towards a green building in which the harbour master had his office. A sleek, top-of-the-range Jaguar sat outside the office complex, which was shared with the RNLI and Marine Scotland, as well as other
private companies. Fraser led the way through a white door and into a corridor. At the very end, a varnished wooden sign was attached somewhat incongruously to a plain white door, announcing in gold letters:
. Fraser knocked, and a disembodied voice bade them enter.
Flynn was a small, neat man, dressed in what could be taken for the uniform of a Royal Naval Officer. His shirt was perfectly ironed, as were his trousers, and his shoes gleamed. His cap was a pristine white over a shiny black peak, which reflected a badge embroidered with a golden anchor. He was fair-haired, with a neatly clipped beard. Putting the man in his fifties, Daley wondered idly whether or not both hair and beard were dyed.
The office, which smelled strongly of pipe tobacco, looked as if it had been furnished sometime before the war. A large wooden bureau sat solidly at the end of the room, adorned by a muddle of papers, pens, books and a laptop computer, looking out of time. At right angles to the bureau, facing the window, sat an even older desk which bore further detritus. Next to it, sitting in a basket chair at the desk, an old man with a parchment-coloured face directed his startlingly blue-eyed gaze at the newcomers. His steady, unblinking appraisal gave the impression of great wisdom; he didn’t attempt a welcome and remained motionless in his seat.
‘Hello, Inspector.’ The harbour master held out a meaty, calloused hand. ‘Alan Flynn, pleased to meet you.’ He gestured the policemen towards two rickety-looking chairs. ‘Sorry about the mess. I do try to tidy up from time to time, but bugger me, when I dae, I can never find a bloody thing. So much paperwork in this job, you wouldna believe.’
‘I’m sad to say I would believe.’ Daley shook Flynn’s hand. ‘I think the police force could break all records as to the use of unnecessary paper.’ He sat down heavily, suddenly feeling tired.
‘Just so, Inspector, preaching to the converted. Now, how can I be of assistance to you?’
Daley pondered the contrast between the neat man and the chaos he appeared to work in. ‘I have an idea how long our victim spent in the water and I know you’ve already talked with DC Fraser here’ – Flynn was nodding, but looking as though he had something important to say – ‘however I’d be most grateful if you could go over things with me.’ He lifted his hand palm up, indicating to Flynn that he acknowledged that he was desperate to talk.
‘You see, that’s just it, Inspector.’ Flynn was now standing over the laptop at the untidy desk. ‘In my opinion . . .’
‘I’m sorry, Mr Flynn’ – Daley realised just how tired he was – ‘as you know, we’re conducting what is a murder inquiry. I would be obliged if you addressed your thoughts to us in private.’ The old man didn’t take the hint.
‘Of course, Inspector, how stupid of me. Hamish, I told you the inspector would want to talk to me by myself. Why don’t you get up to the fish shed and make sure that none of these rogues are up tae no good? Watch out for that
mob, they’re aye at it.’
The old man sat still, and just as Flynn was about to speak again, cleared his throat noisily. Looking directly at Daley, he began talking in a low, rasping voice that was barely more than a slow whisper. ‘Noo, officer, surely a man of your considerable experience can answer me wan question?’
Daley, now getting used to the local drawl, smiled. ‘Sure, what would you like to know? Within reason of course.’
Hamish continued, unblinking. ‘Ye wid never be able tae guess whoot age I am?’ His face suddenly cracked into a broad grin, and he threw his head back and laughed.
Daley said nothing. He knew age to be a very touchy subject with the very old; it was as though they were constantly expecting confirmation of how kind the years had been to them. He was about to say eighty, though he suspected the man to be at least ninety, when Hamish stopped laughing abruptly. ‘Seeventy-three, Inspector. Aye, seeventy-three. Noo, ye wirna expecting that, eh?’ The broad smile returned to his face, narrowing his eyes and giving him an almost East Asian appearance.
Daley honestly agreed, as Fraser looked on, bemused by the whole exchange. They sat in silence for a few seconds, until Flynn walked over to his elderly companion and took him by the arm. ‘Noo, come on, Hamish, these men have a lot on. Let’s be having you. Don’t roll over, roll out and a’ that.’
Hamish got up, slowly but straight backed. He picked up his pipe from the table and began to walk towards the door. When he reached Daley’s chair he stopped. Any trace of a smile was gone, and he looked as though he had bad news to impart. ‘Fair’s fair, Inspector, you gied me a courtesy, noo it’s my turn tae dae likewise.’ The blue of his eyes was at its most piercing at this close proximity.
Daley smiled. While he wanted to get on with proceedings, he decided to indulge the old man. ‘Yer woman, the wan flying doon at the weekend . . .’ He had everyone’s attention now, not least Daley’s. ‘Weel, you’ll need tae make up
your mind up wance an’ fir a’ aboot things. Aye, an’ forbye, the man’s she’s wi’, he’s no good – no good at a’. Maybes yer passed caring though, eh? But heed this: ne’er let harm come tae the things that ur precious tae you.’ With that, he smiled briefly, put his pipe to his mouth and left the room.
Flynn looked embarrassed. ‘Just ignore him, Inspector, he’s forever making prophecies of doom.’
‘It depends how accurate they are, Mr Flynn.’ Daley was strangely relieved that Hamish had gone. He had found something about the man unsettling.
‘That’s the thing, Inspector. He’s got a name for it, you know, predicting the future an’ a that. His family’s a’ the same. His grandfaither predicted the Second World War.’
Fraser spoke up in defence of his new boss. ‘Och, lots of people predicted that. You just had to have a look at what was happening in Germany at the time. Churchill predicted it too.’
‘Aye, no’ in nineteen twenty-two he didna, time, date an’ everything. They still talk aboot it in the toon tae this day. You must remember, constable, superstition’s still strong in wee places like this, especially amongst the fishin’ community. Now, gents, take a look at this.’ He indicated the laptop.
Daley coughed, anxious to move on. ‘Yes, Mr Flynn, back down to business.’
The laptop screen was a live satellite image of the Kintyre peninsula, superimposed on which was a complex swirl of what Daley recognised as isobar lines, and numbers which he did not understand. The map refreshed itself about every thirty seconds. Flynn started typing on the keypad of the computer, with what Daley thought was impressive speed.
‘You see, Inspector, I’m now going back over the last forty-eight hours or so. These numbers are indications of tide and direction of the wind. It’s quite complicated, takes a wee bit of getting used to, but I wish I had something like this when I was at the fishing myself.’ He tapped a few keys and suddenly the image enlarged, showing the area around where the body had been found.
‘I recognise this, Mr Flynn. The body was found about here.’ Daley pointed his finger at the swirling image, without touching the screen. He was glad he had spent time the previous evening poring over Google maps of the crime scene and the area in general. ‘What does this indicate to you?’
Flynn rubbed his beard. ‘If you’re asking me for an opinion, Inspector, I’ll give it freely, but it’s only an opinion, mind. Based on what I know of these waters, and the help I get fae this kit, you canna ever be certain what happens at sea . . .’
‘I understand that you can only give an indication, Mr Flynn. No one’s going to question your judgement if it’s proved wrong. I really need some idea of how, when and from which direction the body came to end up where it did, and at the time it did.’ Daley nodded at the harbour master, who straightened up from leaning over the screen, crossed his arms and pursed his lips. Whatever he was about to say, Daley realised that he didn’t really want to say it.
‘Well, in my opinion, if the timescale you’ve given me for this poor lassie entering the water is correct, there is no way possible she could’ve been washed into that bay by the force of wind or tide. In fact, the opposite. If she drowned in the sound here’ – he pointed again at the screen – ‘she wid likely be somewhere out in the Atlantic by now, or maybe washed up
on the North Antrim coast, aye, or even Donegal. But Machrie Bay – nah, no chance.’
‘The post mortem indicated that the body had been gnawed by shellfish, probably prawns – surely they’re only present in deeper water?’
‘Aye, you’re right there, Inspector. There’s no such things as prawns in Machrie Bay. Into the Sound, aye: crab, lobster, prawns and langoustines – but definitely not in the bay. Anyway, we’re not talking about a big stretch of water, are we, Mr Daley? If there had been a body floating aboot in it, someone wid have spotted it before. Wid ye not think?’
Daley looked at the computer image. The bay was small. ‘So, taking this into account, our victim would had to have been put where she was found? You’re saying, sir, that she was dumped in, or spent time out at sea, then was moved into Machrie Bay? Either that, or could she have been dragged into the bay inadvertently by some vessel, Mr Flynn?’
‘Aye, it’s possible, but mind you, the bay itself is quite shallow. The only craft you get in there are small: lobster boats, pleasure craft and the like. I canna see a vessel like that hauling a body intae the bay without noticing.’ He shrugged his shoulders.