Authors: Denzil Meyrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Crime
Who was this woman? What had happened to her – and why?
Daley and Fraser stood in the County Hotel’s reception area. The wide carpeted staircase, the faded gold-leaf banister, the dark wooden panelling and the red-and-gold textured wallpaper gave the impression of an old 1940s cinema rather than a hotel. To their left the foyer was populated with chairs upholstered in red velvet, worn thin by numerous posteriors and redolent of days gone by.
A large glass-fronted box was the obvious reception desk. Sliding windows lay open over a varnished shelf, on which the open register sat beside a large brass bell. Fraser, obviously no stranger to these surroundings, picked up the bell on the desk and rang it enthusiastically, leaning his head into the reception office.
‘Aye, aye, gie’s a minute.’ A woman’s voice sounded through a door at the other side of the reception box. ‘I’ll be with yous directly.’ The rear door opened, emitting the distinctive murmur that only a barful of contented drinkers could produce; quiet chat punctuated by short bursts of laughter.
Whatever was happening in Kinloch, its citizens seemed to be a cheery bunch.
Daley took in his surroundings. The hotel was strangely familiar; he had first felt this when they had walked past the unusual frontage earlier in the day: the sweet, inviting smell of alcohol mingled with the aroma of freshly cooked food and a strong chemical odour which reminded Daley of his primary school.
A small dark-haired woman in her middle years emerged through the bar door. ‘Good evening, officers. How ye daein’, Erchie? You’ll be wantin’ tae check in, Inspector.’ Yet again, there was clearly no need for introductions. ‘The kitchen will be closing in a wee while, so ye’ll have tae order noo. Or I’ll get a hell o’ a time fae big Wullie, and you’ll get nothin’ tae eat.’ She handed Daley a large brown menu, bound in a leatherette cover and slightly stained by previous diners. ‘There’s nae beef left, and I widna touch the lasagne since he made it the day afore yesterday. Chicken curry. The fish is always good. Noo, could you fill this in?’ She turned an open ledger around to face the men.
Daley busied himself with the usual details, filling in his address as c/o Paisley Police Office and using the number of the Kinloch office as his contact. He slid the ledger back across the desk, along with the menu. ‘I’ll take your recommendation on the fish. We’ll be in the bar. My name’s Jim by the way. Do you know if my luggage is here?’
The receptionist reached behind her chair to a wooden board on which were several large wooden keyrings, all bearing the legend ‘
PROPERTY OF THE COUNTY HOTEL
’. ‘Pleased tae meet you, I’m sure. My name’s Annie. Aye, all your stuff’s up in room six, third door on yer left on the first floor.’
Daley and Fraser made their way from reception down the corridor to where the noise of drunken banter was emanating. He had persuaded the DC to have a meal with him; he hated eating alone, and in any case the younger man had had no more chance than his superior of getting a decent meal all day. Fraser had opted for the chicken curry, a choice that caused Annie to raise her eyebrows, though she fell short of making any comment. That they had decided to eat in the bar made her brows arch even further.
Fraser made his way through the frosted-glass door that read ‘Public Bar’, in an old-fashioned cursive script. Daley followed. The warm smell of alcohol immediately enveloped the officers, though the conversation stopped dead.
There were about twenty customers in all, some standing at a varnished wooden bar, while the rest were spread amongst a number of randomly placed chairs and tables. There was a cross-section of ages, however, regardless of vintage, all the women were seated. Standing at the bar was clearly a male preserve.
‘Aye, an’ whoot’s wrong wi’ a’ yous?’ The formidable Annie was back behind the bar. ‘It reminds me o’ that werewolf film. Jeest get back tae yer conversations, an’ let the officers get their tea.’
A young man at the bar looked baffled. ‘Whoot werewolf film dae ye mean, Annie?
Dawn o’ the Deid
‘Nah, you idiot –
American Werewolf in London
. You know, the bit where they go intae the bar, an’ everyone jeest shuts up. Noo get on wi’ yer pint, Danny Finlay.’
An elderly woman sitting at a table expressed her opinion that Lon Chaney had been her favourite werewolf to no one
in particular, and then drained her glass. Two older men eyed Daley up and down. One of them was wearing yellow oilskin trousers over green Wellington boots, and smelled strongly of fish. ‘Yer wasting yer time, Inspector. That poor lassie could be fae anywhere. There’s no reason as tae how the sea gies up her dead, no reason at a’.’ The man bore the grin of a smart-arse.
Daley reached into his pocket, fetching out his notebook. ‘And your name is, sir? I’ll take a quick note and get you up to the office for an interview tomorrow.’
The smirk left his interlocutor’s face. ‘Noo, wait a minute. I mean, I wiz jeest giein’ an opinion. I’m no’ saying . . .’ He didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence.
Daley had winked at his companions, and they greeted the winding up of their mate with great hilarity.
‘Aye, very good, you should see your face, Jackie. Like a skelpit kipper. Fuckin’ idiot.’
‘Good for you, Inspector,’ said Annie. ‘Noo, whoot can I get yous?’
‘I’ll get these.’ Fraser reached into his jacket pocket. ‘What do you want, sir?’
Daley looked along the gantry; the County Hotel had no mean stock of single malts. He asked for a large Springbank, much to the dismay of his colleague, who took another tenner from his wallet.
‘There’s a seat at the back there.’ Annie served the drinks with a smile. ‘That’ll be eighteen pound, sixty pence, Erchie. Since it’s you we’ll call it eighteen.’
He handed the money over grim-faced, and the policemen made their way through the chairs and tables to their seats at the rear of the bar.
Daley had forgotten how expensive Springbank was and offered Fraser some money in compensation, which he refused. ‘Well, if you’re sure, Archie. I suppose it goes some way to squaring me up after all the drinks I had to buy your Uncle Davie over the years.’ The pair laughed, each with their own memories of Fraser’s uncle.
The meal arrived without undue haste. Fraser’s chicken curry was an unusual shade of green, but it didn’t seem to bother him as he took his fork to it with great enthusiasm. Daley’s fish on the other hand looked delicious: a large haddock, covered in golden crispy batter, accompanied by marble-sized marrowfat peas, thick, home-made chips – perfectly cooked – a small ramekin of tartar sauce and a huge chunk of badly cut lemon. The Inspector was as hungry as his subordinate, so he tucked in with relish.
‘Well, they certainly know how to cook fish in this neck of the woods.’ Daley pushed his empty plate across the table. ‘What was yours like, Archie?’
The younger man had managed to spill some curry down his tie, which he was desperately trying to remove with a red paper napkin. ‘Bloody thing,’ Fraser cursed as he examined the stained tie. ‘I’ve only got one other one and it doesna match my suits. Bugger it.’
Daley suppressed a laugh; sartorial elegance was very important to some CID officers. He had known colleagues buy some ridiculously priced suits and shoes, only to have had them torn, burned, stained with blood, soaked in the rain, or a multiplicity of other hazards that faced police officers on a daily basis. For those reasons he had always chosen the cheapest suits on offer; having his own private celebration when one of the big supermarkets began selling them for
twenty quid. ‘I’ve got a couple of spare ties in my bag. I’m sure I can spare one.’
Fraser looked relieved. ‘Thanks, sir. You don’t want to have to buy any clothes here. You’d need to take out a mortgage first, the shops are extortionate.’
‘What have you done with your clothing allowance?’ CID personnel were given an annual allowance to buy their clothes, which was habitually used to buy golf clubs, a weekend away, a new computer, or on a range of other expenditures that had nothing to do with tailoring.
‘Too little to go round, sir.’ Fraser was grinning. ‘Anyway, I’ve put on a stone since I’ve been off the beat, keep having to buy a whole new set of clothes.’
‘Tell me about it,’ said Daley wryly. ‘A few less pints, and a few more hours in the gym, my boy. Take a leaf out of my book.’ He smiled. If there was one thing he could empathise with, it was sudden weight gain; even now his belly was protruding over his waistband in a painful and constricted manner – and these were his new trousers.
He signalled to Annie that they were ready for the same again. Annie duly arrived with the drinks on a tray. ‘Yous were hungry right enough,’ she said as she removed the men’s plates. ‘I’d keep an eye on the young fellow here. He’ll likely be in intensive care by the morrow. Big Wullie’s great at plain food, but he canna cook fancy stuff tae save himself.’ She smiled at the policemen. ‘Whoot time will ye be wantin’ yer breakfast? I’m daein’ the cooking, so if ye choose continental or jeest a cereal, I’ll be o’er the moon.’
Daley ordered a full Scottish breakfast for six forty-five. Annie took a note, pursed her lips, and returned to the bar,
reprimanding one of the younger male customers who had just spilled his pint and was swearing loudly.
The police officers finished their drinks. Daley was aware that almost all the customers were either trying to hear what they were saying or throwing glances in their direction every few minutes. ‘Time to hit the sack, Archie.’ Daley rubbed the bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb. ‘Keep your mobile on. You never know how or when an investigation like this will pan out.’
They said goodnight to Annie and then walked out into the foyer. A ragged chorus of ‘Cheerio-cheerio-cheerio’ issued from some of the more rowdy element they had just left behind, closely followed by Annie’s now familiar voice leaving them in absolutely no doubt she wanted them to shut up.
Daley said goodnight to Fraser, fished out his absurdly large room key from the inside of his jacket, and made his way up the faded grandeur of the staircase to the first floor. Gaining the landing, he faced a glass-paned fire door, of the type common in schools when he had been a boy. A bright green exit sign shone vividly above it; the transom shuddered to a creaking close as he made his way to room six. He unlocked his room door and pushed it open. Running his hand up and down the inside wall beside the door, he located a light switch, which prompted an overhead striplight into blinking life. The heavy door swung shut at his back.
Facing him was a double bed, which would have been a tight squeeze for two adults, but would do him. It was covered in an old-fashioned candlewick bedspread. The diamond patterned top-sheet had faded from what he suspected had once been a light red colour, to a candy pink.
He’d had one exactly the same as a boy. At the side of the bed, a cheap cabinet served as the base for an ancient anglepoise lamp, which looked as though it would snap in two if any attempt was made to change its position.
He sat on the bed as he unbuckled and unzipped his suit bag. In front of him now, and to the side of the door, sat a small pine wardrobe. On investigation, Daley discovered that it contained five metal coat-hangers, and smelled strongly of mothballs. He hung up three suits, a sports jacket, a pair of trousers, and six shirts, and then closed the doors. From another bag, he removed a pair of chinos, a pair of denims, various socks, pants and T-shirts, and arranged them in one of the four drawers of the chest, that sat to the right side of his bed, directly across from a sash window.
Antiquated, the window was adorned with faded, red velvet curtains and full-length net curtains the colour of old parchment. An assortment of dead insects populated the dusty windowsill. The sash window resisted all his strained attempts to get it open. He gave up and stared at the street below, illuminated orange in the streetlight.
To his surprise, one of the old women he and Fraser had met earlier was standing at the bus stop across the road. She looked up at his window and gave a hearty wave, smiling broadly. Daley automatically waved back, and on having done so felt faintly ridiculous. It didn’t take long to make friends in Kinloch.
After placing his toiletries on a shelf beside the large Victorian bath and cleaning his teeth, he closed the curtains and switched on the bedside light. Addicted to radio since he was a child, the penultimate item he removed from his luggage was his portable radio-alarm clock. He found a spare
socket, plugged it in, set the time, and turned on Radio 4. Finally, he took his copy of Patrick O’Brian’s
The Wine Dark Sea
from his case, lay back on the bed, and placed it next to him. It was only then he noticed where the television was located, set well back, on top of the wardrobe. Using the deductive powers for which he was famous, he opened the flimsy drawer of the bedside cabinet and there – sure enough – was a battered TV remote, the batteries held in by peeling black electrical tape.
Daley had a bath. There seemed to be plenty of hot water, and unlike the modern variety, this old bath was deep and wide. He luxuriated in the relaxing warmth for a few minutes. He got out, then towelled himself down, donning the pair of shorts that were his habitual sleeping garment. He lay in the bed. It was a warm night, and the room was stuffy as the window was stuck. He had toyed with the idea of calling reception, but decided against this course of action. Firstly, he thought it unlikely anyone would be about the hotel at that time of night who would actually be prepared, or able to fix it. Secondly, such was the racket of cars going up and down the Main Street, plus the shouts and guffaws of local revellers, he reasoned that the window best remain shut. He tried to concentrate on the discussion programme which was currently being broadcast, but decided it was impossible. He picked up the novel, and admired the cover. Unfortunately, by the time he had found the right page, his eyes refused to obey his brain, and danced over the words. His eyelids began to droop. Leaning over, he flicked the lamp off and turned onto his side. Within moments, he was asleep.