TERMINUS: A thrilling police procedural set in Scotland, страница 1
THE BOOK FOLKS
© Pete Brassett
Polite note to readers
This book is written in British English apart from instances where local dialect is used. For that reason, spellings of words and other conventions may differ slightly from North American English.
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TERMINUS is the fifth book by Pete Brassett to feature D.I. James Munro and D.S. Charlie West.
Enjoy this book as a standalone or as part of a series. The other books are (in order of publication):
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For the indigenous dog-walkers and their wayward hounds, for the raft of ramblers with their knapsacks and maps, and for the curious tourists on the trail of their forebears, the climb to the top of the brae – though not taxing – was amply rewarded with an unfettered view of the rolling Southern Uplands. Weather permitting. For Callum Dalgetty, it was unseasonably dreich.
He braced his fragile frame against a gusting south-westerly, scowled at the cauldron of bubbling, grey clouds thundering overhead and flinched as the drizzle peppered his face. Mustering what little strength remained in his ageing body, he cleared his throat and, lest his words be carried out to sea unheard, raised his head and hollered with the contemptuous conviction of an exorcist intent on casting out the Antichrist.
‘May the soul of Esme Sinclair and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.’
Teetering on the brink of exhaustion, he tossed a handful of cloying, sticky earth into the cavernous pit below, wiped his hands on the back of his cassock and looked wearily across at Alison Kennedy – the only mourner in attendance – as she struggled to gain control of her umbrella.
‘That’s us away, then,’ he said, his tortured face ravaged by the wrinkles of a lifetime’s burials. ‘My rheumatism’ll not be thanking me if I stay out here much longer.’
‘Right you are, Father,’ said Kennedy, taking his arm as they set off down the hill, ‘will I see you back to the rectory?’
‘Aye, that’s kind of you, Alison. Will you stop a while or are you heading back to the home?’
‘No, no. That’s me done for the day, Father. I’d say a wee sit down and a cup of tea is just what we need.’
* * *
As a vibrant forty-nine-year-old whose idea of a good night out was a stuffed-crust pizza with a side order of buffalo wings washed down with copious amounts of pear cider at the Club de Mar, Alison Kennedy – blessed with the looks and the figure of somebody twenty years younger – enjoyed nothing more than flaunting her assets in a pair of skin-tight leggings and a clingy Lycra vest. However, as the manager of the Glencree care home – and fearful of hastening the demise of those residents with a cardio-vascular condition – she deemed an undeniably conservative two-piece suit more appropriate for work, even though it made her feel about as sexy as a holiday rep on a coach tour for the over sixties.
Avoiding the impressive but calorie-laden spread of cheese and pickle sandwiches, mini pork pies and assorted cupcakes so thoughtfully provided by the housekeeper, she sat in the gloomy surroundings of the lounge, mesmerised by the flickering flames of the roaring fire, and waited patiently for her host to return.
Dalgetty, casually dressed in a pair of black trousers, a black clerical shirt and a pale, grey cardigan which matched almost exactly the towel-dried mop atop his head, padded silently into the room and headed straight for the sideboard.
‘Nice shoes, Father,’ said Kennedy, tickled by his choice of footwear.
‘You’ve Mrs Campbell to thank for that,’ said Dalgetty, smirking as he glanced down at the chunky Adidas trainers. ‘I think they make me look like a reprobate from the ghetto but I’ve got to hand it to her, they’re the most comfortable things I’ve worn in years.’
‘She looks after you well.’
‘Aye, she does that. I mean, will you look at that food. It’ll be a week before I get through that lot, and I’m not even keen on cheese.’
‘Will I pour you a cup?’
‘No, no,’ said Dalgetty, as his bony fingers struggled with the cap on a bottle of Ballantine’s, ‘you go ahead. I’m in need of a tonic, myself. Will you take a drop?’
‘I will, but what about the tea? Mrs Campbell will have your guts for garters when she finds it’s not been touched.’
‘She’ll never know. There’s a plant pot by the window that has quite a taste for it, now.’
Dalgetty heaved a sigh of relief as he eased himself gently into his favourite armchair and raised his glass.
‘To Esme,’ he said, knocking it back.
‘How was she? At the end, I mean.’
‘As you’d expect, but at least she went peacefully, in her sleep.’
‘It’s bad enough not having any family to see you off, but to be in her state…’
‘Och, she was none the wiser, Father,’ said Kennedy, ‘really, she was happy in her own little world.’
‘Well, that’s something, I suppose, but I’ll tell you this – I’ll not see out my days in that home of yours, especially if I can’t even remember my own name.’
‘Nonsense. You’d be well looked after.’
‘No, no. If I go the way of Esme, you’re to put a gun to my head, do you hear me?’
‘I’ll do no such thing. How on earth will I make it past the Pearly Gates with a murder on my hands? And a priest, at that.’
‘Pearly Gates?’ said Dalgetty, gesturing towards the bottle on the sideboard, ‘fanciful stuff and nonsense.’
Kennedy fetched the Ballantine’s and filled his glass with a generous shot.
‘Stuff and nonsense?’ she said, with a wry smile. ‘Whatever do you mean?’
‘I mean there’s no such thing, lassie. You live. You die. End of story.’
‘Are you losing your religion, Father?’
Dalgetty contemplated the question, slumped back in his chair and fixed her with a vacuous stare.
‘How long have you known me, Alison?’ he said, softly.
‘Why, ever since you came to St. Cuthbert’s. I was a wean so it must be forty-odd years at least.’
‘Aye. That’s what I thought. And in those forty-odd years have you ever known me to falter? To stray from the path? To ever let anyone down?’
‘Of course not. You’re as solid as a rock.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I don’t have the faith, Alison. Not anymore. I don’t believe a word of it. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’ll be putting me in a box in a year or two, I’d walk away now.’
‘But you’ve always been so…’
‘Dependable? Reliable? Trustworthy?’
‘Aye, all of those,’ said Kennedy. ‘You’re the best priest I’ve ever known. In fact, you’re the only priest I’ve ever known.’
‘That’s not true.’
‘Alright, it’s not true. But the others are Presbyterians so they don’t count. What’s this all about, anyway? You’re the last person I’d expect to fall off the religious wagon.’
Dalgetty swilled the whisky around his glass and hesitated before answering.
‘Love,’ he said.
‘I’m in love. Always have been.’
‘With a woman?’
‘Well, it’s not a choirboy, if that’s what you’re thinking.’
‘No, no,’ said Kennedy, with a giggle, ‘it’s just that, don’t take it the wrong way but… at your age?’
‘I never realised there was a time limit,’ said Dalgetty, smiling softly. ‘Margaret Forsyth. We met just before I joined the seminary.’
‘The seminary?’ exclaimed Kennedy. ‘But that must have been years ago. Are you telling me you’ve been in love with this Margaret Forsyth all this time?’
‘That’s heart-breaking, Father. Why on earth did you not marry her? Surely if you…’
‘Because,’ said Dalgetty, draining his glass, ‘she didn’t feel the same. To use some poetic licence, my love was unrequited.’
‘I’m fair welling up here. What’s brought this on all of a sudden? Why are you telling me this? Is it Esme?’
‘No, no. It’s Margaret. She passed away last week.’
‘Och, I’m sorry. You must be devastated.’
‘That’s one word for it.’
‘So, how did you find out? Did you keep in touch?’
‘Aye. We kept in touch,’ said Dalgetty. ‘We saw each other three times a week, every week for the past forty years.’
‘My God, that’s incredible,’ said Kennedy, ‘but if you don’t mind me asking, did she not marry herself?’
‘No. She did not.’
‘Do you not find that a wee bit odd?’
‘I do. Sometimes I tell myself it’s because she never found the right man. Most of the time I kid myself it’s because she really did love me, but I was, shall we say, already spoken for.’
‘You’re killing me here, Father. That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.’
‘It’s not sad,’ said Dalgetty. ‘We still had each other. We were still the very best of friends, but the most painful thing of all was that I wasn’t with her at the end.’
‘So, it was quite sudden then?’
‘Sudden and unexpected. She was as fit as a fiddle. Well, as fit as one can be at our age, apart from the odd...’
‘Odd what, Father?’ said Kennedy. ‘Was there something troubling her?’
‘She… she was like Esme. Och, she wasn’t bonkers. It was early stages. Most of the time she was fine but she had her moments. She’d forget things now and then, but don’t we all?’
‘Aye, right enough. We do, indeed.’
‘But she had home care, and myself, of course. Not that that’s any consolation now. So you see, Alison, I’ve not only let myself down, and the church, but I’ve let her down, too. Ignore me. It’s been one of those days. Have yourself a cupcake and pass the bottle.’
Kennedy dabbed the corners of her eyes with a handkerchief and stared at Dalgetty who, head hung low, looked as forlorn as a fawn who’d lost its mother to poachers.
‘I could join you,’ she said, ‘at the service, I mean. That is, if you’d like me to come.’
‘Aye. I’d like that,’ said Dalgetty, ‘although I’ve no idea when exactly it will be. They’re conducting a post-mortem.’
‘A post-mortem? Why’s that, Father?’
‘Lord knows. Probably because it took everyone by surprise. Especially her. Still, I have the pleasure of meeting with her solicitor tomorrow for the reading of the will. Not that I want or expect anything but in the absence of any family it appears I’m the nominated next of kin.’
‘Well, if you need any help, don’t be afraid to ask. I know how troubling it can be. Lucas will gladly lend a hand if there’s any legal stuff you need to deal with.’
‘I appreciate the offer,’ said Dalgetty. ‘And how is he? That man of yours, Lucas?’
‘Och, he’s grand. Same as ever, you know: kind, considerate, funny, and generous to a fault.’
‘Still smitten, then?’
‘Well, it’s only been a few months, Father, but it feels right. Comfortable, you know?’
‘Aye. Like a good pair of trainers,’ said Dalgetty. ‘He likes to help, at Glencree, I mean. Has he a special interest or is it just because he can’t get enough of you?’
‘Very funny. Lucas seems to have a knack of getting through to the residents but then again, he’s had a lot of practice.’
‘Is that right? How so?’
‘His mother was in care, back in Holland. She died a while back, now.’
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to…’
‘No, no, it’s alright,’ said Kennedy. ‘Anyway, that’s why he likes to help, especially with the advice, it’s his way of giving something back. I feel so sorry for them, you know? They’re thrown into our care without a clue who they are and no-one to take charge of their personal affairs and there’s so much to deal with.’
‘I can imagine.’
‘House, car, personal effects, banks accounts. That’s why Lucas is such a godsend. If it wasn’t for him, the government would get the lot.’
‘At least that’s one problem I’ll not have to deal with, all this belongs to the church,’ said Dalgetty with a sweep of the arm, ‘including Mrs Campbell. I came into this world with nothing and, I’m happy to say, I shall be leaving exactly the same way.’
If the queue of slow-moving traffic, creeping like a cavalcade of mobility scooters on the way to a funeral, wasn’t enough to infuriate her, then being forcibly detained by the roadside at the behest of two overzealous police officers intent on booking her for speeding, dangerous driving and failing to comply with a stop sign, certainly was.
Infuriated by the unscheduled stop, Detective Sergeant West – determined to cut the ninety-minute journey from Ayr to the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary to under an hour – floored the Figaro like a bumper car at a fun fair, dodging red lights and roundabouts with the prowess of a rally driver on crack.
Heart pounding, she stormed through the entrance of the hospital and headed straight for the ICU where PC Ferguson, looking as vigilant as a sedated sloth, sat leafing lethargically through the sports pages of the Daily Record outside Munro’s room.
‘And you are?’ she said, panting as she flashed her warrant card.
Ferguson, startled by the distraction, scrambled to his feet and tried somewhat irrationally to conceal the newspaper behind his back.
‘PC Ferguson, Miss,’ he said, ‘I was just… it’s awful quiet here, not much to do.’
‘Whatever. DI Munro?’
‘Is he up?’
‘I’m not really sure. The doctor’s with him, just now. Shall I knock?’
‘Don’t bother…’ said West, distracted by the sight of a familiar figure sauntering confidently along the corridor carrying two cups of coffee.
Duncan Reid, having swapped the clean-cut look of an eager young constable for something a little edgier, something a little rough around the edges, looked positively roguish in his worn-out jeans, black biker boots and weathered, leather jac
‘Am I glad to see you, Miss!’ he said, with a boyish grin. ‘DCI Elliot said you were coming down.’
‘Duncan! This is a surprise, you look… different.’
‘Thanks very much. I’m honing my incognito image.’
‘Is that right?’ said West, amused. ‘So, that’s why you’ve given up shaving and washing your hair?’
‘Aye, something like that.’
‘Sorry, I’m just joking, you look pretty… cool. Listen, it’s good of you to come all the way from Gourock to see him, he’ll be made up. On your day off, too.’
‘Well, you’re not in uniform, so I assume…’
‘This is my uniform, Miss,’ said Duncan, smiling proudly. ‘I’m not a police constable anymore. I’m a Detective Constable. And this is my patch.’
‘You’re kidding me? Well, good for you, Duncan. I mean it.’
‘Thanks very much. And that’s not all, it seems I’m answerable to you for the foreseeable so we can find the bampot who did this, together.’
‘I wouldn’t have it any other way,’ said West, nodding at the cups. ‘Is one of those for me, by any chance? I’m parched.’
‘It is now,’ said Duncan. ‘PC Ferguson, go grab yourself a coffee.’
‘So, how is he?’ said West as Ferguson ambled off with his tail between his legs.
‘Aye, okay. He’s as battered as a fish supper but he’ll survive.’
Duncan stepped aside as the doctor – old enough to inspire confidence and round enough to inspire dieting – emerged from Munro’s room.
‘This isn’t the stage door, you know,’ he said with a scowl. ‘If it’s autographs you’re after, you’ll have to wait until he’s released.’
‘DS West. We work together.’
‘Och, I do apologise,’ said the doctor. ‘McKay’s the name. There’s been so many folk coming and going, it’s a wonder he gets any rest at all.’
‘Really?’ said West. ‘What kind of folk?’
‘Reporters mainly. Most of them local. Turn one away and another pops up to take his place. It’s like whack-a-mole on the NHS. Why, there was even one chancer who thought he’d get past simply by wearing a white coat.’