Chapter 17

I stared at the ceiling for a minute, then settled down on the stool in front of the vanity unit.

So much for getting Henry s help catching the Birthday Boy: looked as if Dr McDonald was on her own

Which wasn t exactly fair. The poor old sod deserved better than this, rotting away in a cold and lonely house, until the booze, an aneurism, or hypothermia finished the job.

Let s be honest, the end probably came as a bit of a relief.

Henry, could you not have waited till

A dry squeak came from the corpse, followed by the smell of death. Or rotten eggs. Or a mouldering otter Not dead, just farting.

Agh, not you too! What was it with psychologists?

I stuck a hand over my mouth, marched over to the curtains and threw them open, then did the same with the window, letting the cold air in and the smell of whatever was festering in Henry s bum out.

Henry!

Mmmmmph Nrm slppn Pale gums in a slack mouth.

Henry, you manky-arsed bugger: up! You ve got visitors.

He cracked an eye open and blinked at the ceiling. Sodding hell His voice sounded like a handful of walnuts being slowly crushed, the Aberdeen accent twisting the vowels out of shape. Fit time is it?

Nearly eight.

Tuesday?

Wednesday.

Near enough. He looked as if he was trying to sit up, then flopped back on top of the duvet. Am I dead?

You smell like it.

Oh In that case, give us a hand?

I hauled him out of bed, and propped him up against the wardrobe, trying not to breathe through my nose. God almighty, when did you last have a bath?

You look like a punch bag. A long, rattling cough. Where did I leave my teeth?

The little plastic bottle of pills rattled when I shook it. A printed label on the side: FLUVOXAMINE 50MG. TWO PILLS TWICE A DAY TO BE TAKEN WITH FOOD. AVOID ALCOHOL.

You shouldn t be drinking with these.

Ah, there they are. Henry picked a tumbler off the windowsill a set of dentures were floating in what looked like old urine. He fished his teeth out and popped them in, then drank the rest of the liquid, and sighed. The unmistakable reek of whisky.

Ash, much though I ve missed you like an amputated limb, I m guessing you want something His eyes narrowed. Then closed completely. His shoulders slumped. Of course, I m sorry. Rebecca s birthday was Monday, wasn t it? I meant to call, but

It s OK.

No, it s not. He clicked his false teeth together a couple of times. I used to be a psychologist, not an idiot. He snatched the bottle of Bells from the bed and slouched through to the kitchen. Put the kettle on, I need to wrestle my prostate into a decent morning piss for a change

By the time he came back from the toilet, I had four mugs of coffee sitting on the dusty kitchen worktop, the big ring on the gas stove turned up full to take the chill out of the air.

Henry froze in the doorway, frowning at Dr McDonald. Who s this? I thought you A sniff. And what s that bloody racket?

The strains of Bohemian Rhapsody came through the kitchen wall

Royce, whistling away to himself in the lounge. I didn t have the heart to tell him to knock it off.

Dr Forrester, this is Dr McDonald, she has a tendency to babble and her hangover farts smell even worse than yours.

Pink bloomed on her cheeks. He s not exactly it s this isn t really the first impression I wanted to make, I mean we ve come all the way up here and now you think I m some sort of drunkard, when really I was trying to dis-inhibit my normal thinking patterns so I could examine the case from the offender s perspective.

Henry raised an eyebrow. Well, aren t you delightfully quirky. He settled onto one of the breakfast-bar stools. What makes you think I m hungover?

I clunked a mug of black coffee down in front of him. You ve no milk.

His hands shook as he picked it up and slurped. Then topped it off with Bells, the neck of the bottle clattering around the mug s rim. Before you say anything: it s the Fluvoxamine stops your body breaking down caffeine properly, gives you the tremors. And you re not my mother. I m seventy-two, I can drink what I want, when I want.

Another slurp, then more whisky.

What happened to your windows?

Henry peered over the rim of his mug. Tell me, Dr McDonald, do you always binge drink when you re working on a profile?

She pulled out a stool and sat opposite him. Actually, we call it behavioural evidence analysis now, everyone was watching all those television shows where the FBI come in and give a profile and it s bang on and they catch the serial killer every time, and

Do you drink, or don t you?

She swallowed. Sometimes it helps loosen things up.

He nodded, then tipped half the remaining Bells into her mug.

This isn t a social visit: you re here about a case. And as you re here with DI Henderson, I m going to assume it s the Birthday Boy. We worked a couple of rapes together, but I think they both died in prison?

Heat leached through my mug into my aching fingers. Crouch got shanked in Barlinnie, Chambers drank a whole thing of bleach.

So it s the Birthday Boy. Another slurp, and this time when the whisky bottle went back on the breakfast bar it was empty. Can t help you.

A knock at the door and Royce stuck his head in from the hall.

I ve photoed and fingerprinted everything, so you can clean up if you like. Watch yourself though, there s glass and dog shit all over the place He grinned at me. Any chance of a coffee? I m freezing.

Henry s mouth turned down at the edges. Lucky me. He clapped his hands against his legs. Sheba? Sheeeeeee-ba?

I handed the last mug to Royce. Frowned. You said:

Burges has been at it again. Not, Arnold Burges?

Yeah, that s him: tall, fat, bald, big beard like he s eating a badger? Works one of the fish farms out by Calders Lea, he s been

Constable Clark, Henry pointed at a door in the corner of the room, if you want to make yourself useful there s a dustpan and brush in the cupboard. Some bin-bags too. And no more bloody whistling!

A wobbly dog shuffled into the kitchen, moving one leg at a time, its claws clicking and clacking on the floor. It bumped its head against Henry s leg and he reached down to rub a greying ear. The dog groaned.

Sheba, what did I tell you about crapping in the house?

More groans; one back leg twitched.

Crap in the kitchen, it s easier to clean up He stopped rubbing and looked at me. Well, she s old, what do you expect?

Dr McDonald sniffed her coffee, as if there was something sinister lurking at the bottom. Fluvoxamine s an antidepressant. Mixing it with alcohol can cause problems.

Henry shrugged. Still better than Paroxetine: side effects include diarrhoea and erectile dysfunction. Talk about putting the kybosh on your sex life. And don t get me started on Escitalopram.

Royce slouched out of the room, taking the dustpan and brush, bin-bags, and his coffee with him. Muttering.

She tilted her head to one side, and stared at Henry. If you re depressed, it might help to talk to someone, I mean, you re dressed in funereal black, you re mixing your medication with whisky, but it s nothing to be ashamed of: we all have times when it feels like we can t cope, and I m

You remember Detective Inspector Pearson, Ash?

Strathclyde, wasn t it? Retired to Aviemore; lives with his granddaughter.

Not any more. Henry dug something out of his jacket pocket and handed it over.

It was an order of service, folded in half lengthways: IN LOVING MEMORY OF ALBERT PEARSON in gothic script above a photograph of a beady-eyed grey-haired man in full dress uniform.

Buried him Monday in Clydebank. Nice service, very upbeat. Horrible sausage rolls at the reception. Henry tugged at the lapels of his black suit. Hence the?

Dr McDonald fidgeted with the newspapers covering the breakfast bar. You weren t trying to kill yourself?

Oh, I ve thought about it. After Ellie passed I thought about little else. But maybe not quite yet. He gave the ancient dog s ears another rub. Sheba would miss me, wouldn t you, girl? Couldn t do that to her, she s all I ve got left.

Sheba s back end lowered to the floor, and she sat there with her chin on his knee, gazing up at him with milky eyes, dribbling onto his trousers.

Henry swished a mouthful of coffee back and forwards through his false teeth. Swallowed. Albert and I used to meet up a couple of times a year and chew over the cases we never managed to solve, trying to work out what we missed. A six-year-old girl strangled and dumped at the side of the road when her parents couldn t pay the ransom. The accountant who died in the Royal after someone cut off his hands. The family of four on holiday in Dingwall, battered to death in their caravan. The eighteen-year-old receptionist strung up by her ankles in Knapdale Forest and gutted He sighed, then threw back the rest of his coffee. Licking old wounds, then rubbing salt into them.

I laid the order of service on the worktop. The Party Crashers last psychologist screwed up all the notes, then topped himself.

All of them? Henry raised an eyebrow. How did he

Buggered the server too: nine years worth of interviews, assessments, profiles, the whole lot. There s nothing left.

A nod. Then Henry reached into the nearest kitchen cupboard and pulled out a fresh bottle. Grouse this time. Then you re in luck, Dr McDonald, you get to start with a clean slate. None of that legacy thinking from useless old farts like me to get in your way. He twisted the top off and threw it over his shoulder.

You re not drinking your coffee.

Silly old bugger. Is this about Denis Chakrabarti?

I don t do profiling any more. I retired. Henry pointed at the draining board, where half a dozen cut-glass tumblers were lined up on the stainless steel. Pass me three of those, will you?

I placed three glasses on the breakfast bar. Denis Chakrabarti wasn t your fault.

Yes he was. You know it, I know it, and the six little boys he raped and dismembered know it. Philip Skinner s widow knows it too. Henry slugged a generous measure into each tumbler, then held one up. A toast: to new beginnings. May Dr McDonald not make the same mistakes I did.

She stared at the glass in front of her. It s not even eight o clock yet, I mean it s a lovely offer, but I don t know if

If you re going to climb inside the mind of the monster, you should really go prepared, don t you think? A smile pulled at his cheeks; the glass trembled in his hand.

I put a hand on his shoulder, it was hard and knobbly beneath the jacket. Just bones and whisky in a funeral suit. Look talk it over with Dr McDonald, OK? Be a sounding board you don t have to do anything.

I don t

We need your help, Henry. If you re still blaming yourself for Chakrabarti, maybe this is your chance to redeem yourself.

He doesn t want to help, he doesn t want to have anything to do with the case, what am I supposed to do, I mean I can t

Talk to him. Work whatever freaky mojo you did on the ferry crew. Outside, through the shattered lounge window, Scalloway harbour glittered in the sunshine a bright-red fishing boat chugged out to sea, stalked by a cloud of whirling seagulls. Look, we don t have time to dick about up here, OK? Flirt with him, flatter him, dazzle him with your brilliance, I don t care: get him to help.

But he doesn t want to

Top of your class, remember? I pulled on my jacket. I ll be back in a couple of hours.

She sagged, stripy arms hanging by her sides. But, Ash

God s sake: you re worse than Katie, and she s twelve. I grabbed Dr McDonald s shoulders and spun her around, so she was facing the kitchen. Gave her a push. Now go.

She scuffed her Hi-tops across the carpet.

When she d closed the door behind her, I headed outside. Royce was waiting in the patrol car with the engine running. I squeezed into the passenger seat at least it was nice and warm in here. Tell me about Arnold Burges.

The constable pursed his lips, leaned forward, voice turned down to a whisper. Came up here from London four years ago: been hassling Dr Forrester ever since. We ve got him God, what, about twenty, thirty times for public nuisance and destruction of private property. But the Doc never wants to press charges. Daft, eh? I think he feels sorry for him, you know, after what happened to his daughter.

I pulled on my seatbelt. Drive.

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