Lisa McDermid

It was well past eight by the time I got back to my flat in Haddington, and my evening was well and truly busted. I’d had a supper and possible shag date with a guy I’d been seeing for a couple of months, and I certainly wasn’t up for the second without the first, so I’d called him earlier to cancel. I would have been happier if he’d sounded more disappointed.

I’d picked up a takeaway tandoori on the way home, and chose a nice Semillon blanc from the fridge to go with it, but when I looked at it on the plate I decided that I didn’t really fancy it at all, so I binned it and settled for the wine and a bag of crisps.

Then I thought about George. He’d told me to check in with him in the morning, but I was restless, so I picked up the phone and dialled his number. The dead voice answered. I’ve never met Jen, but I’ve spoken to her a few times. She’s always polite, and never asks me why I’m calling, but her tone still gets to me. That’s because there isn’t one, no intonation at all; she sounds as if she’s medicated, but apparently that’s not the case. I can’t imagine what their home life must be like but I hope to God nothing like that ever happens to me. I have quite a few childbearing years ahead of me, and I can appreciate the horror of having one then losing it.

He took the call on an extension; I knew this because there was television noise in the background when he picked up. ‘Hi, Lise,’ he murmured. ‘You done?’

‘Yes,’ I told him. ‘I got as far as I can go; the well’s dry, trail’s cold, whatever.’ I looked at my glass; it was still half full, so I was nowhere near the limit. ‘Fancy a drink?’ I asked, taking myself completely by surprise. ‘Business meeting,’ I added.

‘Nice idea,’ he replied, ‘but I’ve had a couple already, and I don’t think you and me should meet in the Longniddry Inn. People who know me might wonder. So maybe we’d better not. Another time, yes?’

‘Sure,’ I said, wondering how likely that was.

‘No links to Varley in Welsh’s records then?’ His voice changed, became more businesslike; I wondered if Jen had come into the room.

‘Not a light. The auditor said the accounts were meticulous and he wasn’t kidding.’

‘Nothing at all out of the ordinary?’

‘Nothing that I could see; trust me, boss, I spent long enough looking. The bookkeeping’s flawless and every tax return is accepted. There are even a couple of over-payments, where the taxman’s issued refunds without even being asked.’

‘God, the man’s a philanthropist,’ he chuckled. ‘Over-paying tax indeed.’

‘What about Alice?’ I asked him, changing the subject. ‘Has she been interviewed?’

‘Absolutely. High level too; by Mario McGuire and Andy Martin. The chief’s accepted her resignation, by the way.’

‘Ah, that’s a bugger,’ I sighed, but in truth it wasn’t a huge surprise to me. I’d sensed things were heading that way. ‘What about Griff Montell? He’ll be okay, I suppose.’ Don’t let anyone tell you the police force isn’t still male dominated.

I heard another soft laugh at the other end of the line. ‘There’ll be a note on his record, and he’ll be taken out of the limelight for a while.’

‘What the hell does that mean?’

‘You’re going to love this,’ George chuckled. ‘He’s replacing Tarvil. The chief told me, just as I was leaving tonight.’

‘Jesus.’ I’d never worked with the guy, but I’d met him, through Alice. I wasn’t sure about him; he struck me as another testosterone-fuelled type, like Skinner, maybe even higher octane, being twenty years younger and a bloody Springbok into the bargain. ‘When does he start?’

‘As soon as he can be replaced in Leith; might even be Monday.’

‘Mmm,’ I muttered, not trying to hide my cynicism, letting him make what he would of that. ‘Listen,’ I went on, ‘the bigwigs’ interview with Alice: what did it cover?’

‘Not much; she gave them a written statement along with her resignation. Why?’

‘I’m wondering if I should talk to her, that’s all, about Varley and Welsh.’

‘On or off the record?’

It was my turn to laugh. ‘I thought everything we did was off the record, boss.’

‘True,’ he conceded. ‘Okay, do it, but there’s one thing you might not know. There’s history between Alice and Freddy Welsh.’

‘As in sexual history?’ I asked

‘Just so. She owned up to it at interview. Years ago and a one-off, she says, but it’s best if you’re aware of it when you speak to her. Have a good evening.’

‘Thanks, you too.’ As if, poor sod; his good evening would only involve another couple of drinks. ‘I’ll let you know how I get on.’

I finished mine, refilled my glass and dialled Alice’s mobile number. ‘Yes?’ she answered on the third ring, cautiously.

‘It’s me,’ I said, ‘Lisa. Didn’t your phone tell you?’

‘No, it came up as “Private number” that’s all.’

‘I see. Maybe something to do with my new job,’ I surmised.

‘Your. .’ She stopped. Having worked there herself, she knew the form. ‘Probably, if I read you right. When did that happen?’

‘This has been my first day in the office.’

‘Lucky you. No more of those for me. You’ll have heard, I take it.’

‘Only just. I’m sorry, Alice.’

‘Me too,’ she sighed, ‘but I fucked up big time, so I’m blaming nobody.’

‘Not even the Springbok?’

She hesitated. ‘No,’ she murmured, eventually, then added, ‘It would be nice if the sod would stop blanking me, though.’

‘If he does that, he’s not worth the grief. He’s come through it all right. Same old story,’ I snapped, ‘the boys always stick together.’

‘Hey, you’d be best to keep your feminist tendencies under wraps where you are now,’ she warned. ‘Shannon’s one of the boys herself; God knows, she’s test-driven enough of them in her time. Including your ex-gaffer, from what I hear.’

‘George?’ I exclaimed. ‘You’re kidding.’

‘Nope. It wasn’t recent, though, long before. .’

‘Well, there’s a surprise. And here’s one for you; he’s still my gaffer. I’ve just finished speaking to him, in fact. I asked his permission to call you.’

‘All change, eh,’ she chuckled softly. ‘But you don’t need his okay, surely. Am I really as non grata as that?’

‘Not at all,’ I told her. ‘It’s what I want to ask you that I thought I should clear. I’m looking into possible historic links between your uncle and the guy he called in the pub the other night.’

‘A call,’ Alice boomed, angrily, ‘that the son-of-a-bitch tried to claim I made, incidentally.’

‘Don’t worry,’ I assured her, ‘nobody’s buying that.’

‘I should think not.’ She paused. ‘Lisa, I suppose you know about the other guy and me.’

‘I’ve been told,’ I admitted.

‘And were you told what my shit of an uncle said when he was interviewed? That he’d spied on us when it happened.’

‘No, that’s news to me.’

‘That’s what he said, apparently; in fairly graphic terms too. Mr Martin called me to warn me that he’d been bailed. He said I’m to report any approach he makes to me, and he also filled me in on what he’d claimed, about me making the call, and why. Hell, Lisa, my dear uncle will be bloody lucky if I don’t approach him, armed to the teeth!’

‘Alice,’ I said, ‘I have to ask you this. You’re clear that there’s been nothing between you and this man since?’

‘Absolutely. I was drunk, he could barely get it up, plus he had BO, so it was an experience I regretted as soon as I’d sobered up. You know the kind, I’m sure.’

I could have lied and told her that I didn’t; instead, I let it pass. ‘Is there anything you can tell me about his relationship with your uncle, anything I don’t know?’

‘Other than just family?’

‘Yes.’

‘I wish I could. I wish I could give you a nice big juicy secret that would lead to the sods being banged up for five years, but there isn’t. There is no relationship between the two of them that I know of, other than him being my aunt’s cousin. Nothing professional, apart from the conservatory of course, and that was Jock and Aunt Ella giving him business.’

‘Say that again,’ I asked. ‘What conservatory?’

‘The one they had built on their house in Livingston. It’s a full-scale extension really, but that’s what Aunt Ella calls it. Bloody huge thing it is, not your bog standard double-glazing job. His company built it for them.’

‘It did? When?’

‘Can’t say for sure; five, six, seven years ago.’

‘Alice,’ I said, ‘I’ve just been all over the records of Anglesey Construction, from its very beginning. There’s no mention of any job with your uncle’s name on it. I will double-check with his auditor, but I’m bloody sure of it.’

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