Shoppers are advised that the centre will be closing in ten minutes. Please complete your purchases, have a great evening, and come back soon.
A little old lady bustled past, dragging a tartan shopping trolley behind her a wee white terrier peering out of the zip at the top rubber-tipped walking stick thunk, thunk, thunking on the polished marble floor.
Dr McDonald stood in the middle of Templers Vale Shopping Centre, staring up at the huge glass wall that dominated the atrium. Outside, the lights sparkled on Calderwell Bridge, Blackwall Hill rising up behind it. Kingsmeath reduced to a network of glowing points like early Christmas decorations.
Even Kingsmeath didn t look too bad in the dark.
Friday night and Templers Vale was virtually empty. A handful of late-night shoppers drifted between the same stores that always filled places like this Next, Dorothy Perkins, Primark, Burger King, Apple, Vodaphone, Monsoon Three floors of high-street chains and fast-food franchises.
I pointed up to the next level. There he is.
Sabir was wandering along by the glass railing, holding something out in front of him as if he was sleepwalking.
We took the escalator, gliding up to the sound of piped muzak. Sabir stopped outside a generic teenagers clothes shop the kind with silver mannequins in the window wearing ripped jeans, hoodie tops, and retro T-shirts. He stared up at a little white blob fixed to the wall above the shop s entrance.
I tapped him on the shoulder. Hoy, Judas.
He jumped. Jesus You tryin to do us in?
You ratted me out to Dickie.
Ah, now, not really The thing Sabir had been holding out was a white iPad with a red cover. He clutched it against his belly. You didn t exactly swear us to secrecy, did youse? Dickie asked us what I was doin and I told him. A grin spread his large grey face even wider. Hey, Doc, lookin better than you did this mornin.
She gave him a little wave.
Shoppers are advised that the centre will be closing in five minutes. Please complete your purchases, and make your way to the exits. See you again soon.
Dr McDonald peered in through the shop window. A thin bloke in skin-tight black denim and cockatiel hair was tidying a stack of hoodies.
Hold on a tick, I just need to nip inside and get a few things She ducked through the door.
So what did you dig up on Steven Wallace?
Sabir pointed at the lump above the entrance. They ve gorra hidden camera, right there. Most of them s out in the open where you can see them, but there s this network of sneaky buggers like this one ere. So when the sketchy shopliftin bag eads are casin the joint, they think there s these tasty little blackspots where they re safe they ve no idea it s all on film.
A large rectangular planter sat about eight feet away, with a mini jungle sprouting out of beige pebbles. There was something familiar about it I turned, frowned at the shop Dr McDonald had gone into, then walked around to the other side of the planter.
This is where she was: Megan Taylor, on the CCTV footage.
Sabir pointed over my shoulder. Camera s behind youse.
I turned, and there it was like a glossy black egg fused to the ceiling.
So if you were watchin a bunch of kids, and maybe one kid in particular, and you didn t wan anyone to know about it, you d stand in one of the blackspots, right? Only they don t exist, do they?
If you find Steven Wallace on those tapes I will bloody kiss you, Sabir. Even if you do look like a mouldy Weeble.
Cheeky get He pawed at his iPad. Steven Wallace, AKA: Sensational Steve youse can tell he made up his own nickname, can t you? Born in Oldcastle; boarding school at Glenalmond College; dropped outta Edinburgh Uni after two years of Law; had a trial with Hibs, didn t make it; gorra gig on hospital radio at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary; then a little community station. Most of that s from the bio on his website. In other news: he was married; one kid, but she died in a car crash drunk driver took out the family Vauxhall; got divorced; moved back to Oldcastle when his old lady died and left him the house on McDermid Avenue.
Nothin. Done for speedin a couple of times, but only three-point jobs. Licence is clean now. Made a complaint two years ago cos some bird was stalking him, other than that, he s squeaky.
Sabir lumbered over, holding his iPad out, tilting the screen so I could see it. Grainy black-and-white CCTV footage whizzed backwards until Megan Taylor was sitting on the planter in front of us.
Did you work your internet-search-magic on her?
Facebook, Twitter, and Hotmail. All just bollocks really: moanin about school, droolin over boy bands, wonderin how old you have to be to go on Britain s Next Big Star Nothin sayin, Oh, I m meetin that slimy prick off the radio tomorrow and he s gonna tie us to a chair and take me picture. I m runnin the lot through pattern-recognition software, see if there s anythin that matches up with the other birthday girls.
Customers are advised that the centre is now closed. Please make your way to the exits.
Dr McDonald bustled out of the trendy-teen shop carrying two large red paper bags with string handles. Have we started yet?
Sabir held a finger over the play button. Perfect timin, Doc. He poked the iPad. Megan and her chunky friend sat on the edge of the square planter. The four boys milled around them, strutting, laughing, shoving each other.
Dr McDonald peered over Sabir s massive forearm at the screen. Classic mating pattern: males displaying for the females, showing off and boasting they re not really interested in Megan, they re interested in her friend, the one with the boobs, she s very well developed for a thirteen-year-old.
Sabir pointed. That s Brianna, she s Megan s BFF. And that s Joshua, Brandon, Tyler, and Christopher.
Brianna got up and straightened out her miniskirt no sound on the footage, but her lips moved. Asking a question? Megan curled her top lip. Whatever the reply was, Brianna stood there with her mouth hanging open while everyone else laughed. Then she stuck her nose in the air and marched off on too-high-heels, leaving Megan with the boys.
Dr McDonald dumped her bags on the ground, wrapped an arm around herself. Brianna s my best friend, but I really, really hate her. I mean look at her: she s a fat cow, but everyone loves her because she s got breasts. Morons. Fawning over her when they should be paying attention to me.
Megan took a draw on her cigarette.
Why can t they see I m much more sophisticated and grown up than she is? Than any of them. They re just boys, children, but A frown. Look at her fidgeting. Dr McDonald narrowed her eyes. But I ve got a secret Something I m dying to tell everyone, but I promised
The security guard turned up, pointing and shouting.
Shut up, you jumped up little dick in your crappy uniform. Couldn t even be a real policeman, could you? What a loser. Not like me, I m going to be somebody, somebody special
The Coke went flipping end over end, then exploded on the marble floor.
Outahere, Grandad; place is shit anyway
Megan ran, and Sabir lumbered after her, making for the escalators down to the ground floor. Dr McDonald went with him, still staring at the screen as the picture jumped to another camera.
Got places to go, people to see
I grabbed the bags and followed.
The footage was a long shot of Megan running, laughing. She barged past an overweight woman wrestling a pushchair onto the down escalator.
Outta the way, you old bag! Fuck you. And fuck your screaming brat. None of that shit for me: gonna be famous.
We rode down to the ground floor, Sabir pressing pause again so that we arrived at the bottom as Megan leapt off the escalator. New camera angle: she was running for the exit, ponytail trailing behind her like a banner. Jinked around another of the centre s big rectangular planters. Then bang she collided with an old man, sending his shopping flying. What looked like a bottle of wine exploded in black-and-white.
Fuck you too.
She pirouetted, then out through the front doors, face stretched wide in an animal grin.
Fuck the lot of you!
A hunched old man with a mop and bucket stopped to stare at Dr McDonald as she spun around on the spot giving the shopping centre both middle fingers.
I m gonna be somebody!
More crispy seaweed? I held the plastic container out and Dr McDonald scooped a mound of crunchy green slivers onto her plate.
The house on Fletcher Road was huge inside the dining room big enough to seat a football team, so we camped out in the lounge, spreading a Chinese carry-out from the Blue Wok on Keep Street across a large wooden coffee table. A real fire crackled in the hearth, casting flickering shadows across the ceiling.
Dr McDonald was on the floor, sitting cross-legged, shovelling in special fried rice with chopsticks. Talking with her mouth full.
You sure you don t want to come down here, it s much more authentic?
At my age? I d never get up again. The chilli beef wasn t bad: crispy and spicy.
Dr McDonald stared into her rice for a moment. It s not your fault. OK
What isn t?
I mean, she s really lucky to have you as a dad. Still not looking up.
I put my fork down. Dr Mc
My father left when I was fourteen months old. Deep breath. I would have killed to have a dad like you.
I couldn t help smiling. Thought I was a man of violence?
My mum had a load of boyfriends after he left, I don t remember most of them, but the last couple were horrible. One broke her arm and her nose. The next one put her in hospital for a fortnight. Dr McDonald picked up her Irn-Bru and ran her fingers around the blue-and-orange tin. It wasn t the same after that She needed someone to protect her and my father wasn t there. Didn t care. Dark brown curls covered her eyes.
Yeah, well my dad was a prick. I jabbed a sliver of deep-fried beef. Swore I wasn t going to be like that. I d be a good dad to Katie and Rebecca Yeah, and that worked out so well, didn t it?
The beef didn t taste quite so nice any more.
I put the plate down, picked up my jacket and dug the big paper bag out of the pocket. Placed it on the coffee table in front of Dr McDonald.
She shovelled in another load of rice. More prawn crackers?
A shrug. She peered inside, then pulled out the fluffy puffin.
A grin split her face. Really? He s lovely! She gave the thing a squeeze. I ll call him Wilberforce, does he look like a Wilberforce to you, I think he looks like a Wilberforce. Thank you. She tucked the puffin into the gap between her crossed legs, smiling down at his orange and black beak. Would you like some rice, Wilberforce?
OK, so it was meant to be Katie s present, but after today she didn t bloody deserve it. And it was nice to see Dr McDonald so happy, pretending to feed Wilberforce special fried rice, like she was six.
I took another mouthful of chilli beef. Didn t taste too bad after all. So: Steven Wallace?
What was Katie like as a child?
Katie? Happy, cute, bright Every night we d sit in her room with the lights turned down, reading the Brothers Grimm. She hated the Disney versions, said they took out all the good bits. Other kids were drawing stick-figures in nursery, she was drawing severed heads. The smile was back. Used to call her Daddy s Little Monster. Couldn t have been more different from her sister if she d tried.
She really is sorry about today. It s been difficult for her since Rebecca ran away.
We went to the beach once. Michelle was beautiful, and we sat in the dunes and ate sausage rolls and egg sandwiches. Rebecca had her head in a book, and Katie had this black skull-and-crossbones kite and an eyepatch. And she spent the whole time running up and down the beach, making pirate noises. Avast me hearties!
Shiver me timbers! Giggling.
Katie thinks it s her fault Rebecca left they had a fight the night Rebecca ran away. And if Rebecca hadn t run away, you and Michelle wouldn t have got divorced, so that s Katie s fault too. Dr McDonald s hand was warm on my knee. She didn t mean to let you down.
It wasn t her fault. It wasn t anyone s fault. I stared at the little curls of meat on my plate. Sometimes shite things just happen.
And there s loads of mineral water in the fridge.
Rhona s flat was immaculate, everything hoovered and dusted and tidied, like something out of a magazine. She opened the door to the spare room. A pile of my clothes lay neatly folded on the double bed. Didn t have time to get an alarm clock, but I can easily give you a shout when breakfast s on the go.
I picked up a shirt from the pile. Perfectly smooth. You did my ironing?
Sorry I couldn t get the rest done. I ll stick another load on tomorrow. She cleared her throat.
You want a cup of tea or something?
So Shifty says, You can get a cream for that. Rhona threw her head back and laughed a throaty gargling noise that went in jagged heaves. Showing off her pearly beiges. Cream for that Priceless.
The living room was every bit as tidy as the rest of the house. A pristine oatmeal carpet, a white leather couch with one matching armchair, two Ikea bookcases and a boxy coffee table.
I put my mug back on the tray. Covered my mouth for a yawn.
Sorry: been a long week.
A little frown pinched the skin between her eyebrows. Oh, before I forget Rhona picked herself up off the couch and left the room. She came back a minute later and dumped a cardboard shoebox on the coffee table. The thing was full of police-issue notebooks, all lined up in neat rows.
Rhona pulled one out and flipped it open. I had a trawl through my notes. You wanted to know about me doing PNC checks on Birthday Boy families?
You really didn t have
Here we go: Ran full PNC on Arnold and Danielle Burges first of October. That was two years ago. ACC Drummond asked me to do it: same for Sophie Elphinstone s parents and Amber O Neil s. Lazy bugger never does his own computer searches. Kevin s always moaning about having to pick up his dry-cleaning and stuff. Like we re his personal bloody slaves or something.
He s a bit of a tosser, even for Sodding hell. My phone was blaring its old-fashioned ring. The screen said Dr McFruitLoop.
I pressed the button. Is Wilberforce not behaving himself?
Her voice was a high-pitched whisper. Someone s trying to get in the house! Ash, I m scared! What if they get in?
Shite. I ll be right over. I stood, grabbed my jacket. Put my hand over the mouthpiece and nodded at Rhona. Call the station: tell them we ve got an attempted break-in at Eighteen Fletcher Road, right now. Householder is in residence.
Her mouth fell open, then she shut it. Nodded. Right, Guv. She grabbed the house phone and dialled. Aye, Marge, who ve you got near Fletcher Road? Get a patrol car up there pronto
Dr McDonald, I need you to stay calm. I barged out of the flat, taking the steps two at a time down to the building s entrance hall.
What do I do, what do I do, what do I do?
I banged out into the cold night. Is there anywhere in the house with a door you can lock?
Aunty Jan s study?
Go. Lock the door. Stick a chair or something under the handle so it can t open. I jumped into the Renault, cranked the engine over, and floored it.