Ricky quizzed me all the way out to Edinburgh Park, but I told him nothing other than that I’d had a call from someone reporting an emergency at the Torrent group corporate headquarters.
‘But why you?’ he demanded.
‘I don’t know!’ I yelled at him. I don’t shout very often; when I do, it usually has an effect. He dropped the subject and drove, while I phoned Susie and told her that I’d been delayed.
What I did know from the start was that I didn’t want him, or anyone else, to find out any sooner than necessary that Alison had been there, not until we found out ourselves exactly what had happened and to whom. . not that I was in any doubt about that. Ricky’s badly healed fracture was sticking out like an elbow in my mind.
The building was locked and unlit when we pulled up outside, but the big red T on its pole, was glowing. As I looked at it, it occurred to me that it was shaped, more or less, like a cherry.
Ross jumped out and ran up the steps to the main entrance. It was locked and brass gates had been locked across the glass doors. He knew his way around, though; he headed straight round the side of the building, with me at his heels, until he came to a fire exit.
‘Open,’ he muttered, then pushed it, sending it swinging violently on its hinges. I followed him into a short passageway, which ended with another door; we burst out into the main entrance hall.
It was just before eight-thirty and it was a bright evening, so there was still enough natural light coming down from the atrium for us to see what had brought us there.
No more than twelve feet from us, the body of a young woman was sprawled across the reception desk. She was on her back, gazing sightless at the glass roof above. On the floor, all around us, lay ripe red cherries spilled from the wooden bowl in which her head now rested. I saw that several of them were squashed flat.
Ricky tried to hold me back, but I shook his hand off and made my way through them carefully, up to the desk.
I looked down at the dead girl; she was still wearing her plastic name tag, but I knew who she was, anyway. I had guessed as soon as I had taken Alison’s frantic call. ‘Anna Chin,’ I said, quietly, as if I was trying not to disturb her. She looked peaceful; the only odd thing about her was the angle of her broken neck. Apart from that there was not a mark on her.
I looked over my shoulder at Ricky and saw that he was brandishing his twisted wrist. ‘What did I tell you?’ he exclaimed. ‘That was Alison who called you, right?’
‘Yes. Now tell me what else doesn’t fit.’
‘What do you mean?’
The words had barely escaped his lips, when we heard the siren outside. ‘No, it’s okay,’ I told him. ‘That’s what was missing. Listen, when they get in here, ask them when they got the call.’
He frowned at me. ‘Why?’
‘Just do it.’ I glanced at my watch. ‘It’s about twenty minutes since I had that phone call. I’ll bet you the police were delayed by about that length of time; I’ll bet they should have been here sooner, so they could catch her on the premises.’
Ricky isn’t at all dumb. He saw the same picture I was looking at. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Don’t tell me any more.’
Just at that moment, two uniformed constables burst through the side door; one was a youngster, but the other was a veteran, grey hair showing at his temples.
‘Where the fuck have you been?’ Ross barked.
The older copper glared at him for about half a second, until he recognised him, then changed his expression, instantly. ‘I’m sorry, sir,’ he said. ‘We’re the second car. The one that was supposed to respond was in an accident at the Barnton traffic lights; the driver went through on the red and a lorry smashed his side in. I got the call after that, and I’d to come from Granton.’
‘Okay. Were the other guys hurt?’
‘I don’t think so, sir.’
‘The lorry driver?’
‘That’s a relief; if he was there’d have been hell to pay.’
The veteran nodded; he was only relieved that he hadn’t been in the other car. ‘What about CID?’ Ricky asked him.
‘I don’t know about that, sir.’
‘Well, call them in pronto, and a doctor. . not that there’s any helping this poor lass.’
‘What’ll I call it, sir?’
Slowly and deliberately, Ross walked round the desk; he didn’t look down as far as I could see, but I heard more cherries squash under his feet as he walked. ‘Tell them it’s a suspicious death, and that they should send a full scene-of-crime team. You two wait here and don’t touch anything. We’ll be outside.’
I got the message and followed him along the corridor, to the fire exit. I hadn’t noticed before, but there were red marks on the floor that could have been made by the juice of crushed cherries. As he walked, outside and round to the main entrance, Ricky’s shoes, and mine by that time, made even more.
‘You’re right,’ he said as we stood waiting at the top of the steps, speaking quietly as if there was someone around who might have heard. ‘This was a set-up. Whoever killed that girl knew that Alison was coming here and arranged it so that she would find her.
‘I guess they watched her then called the police, expecting them to arrive with her still at the scene.’
He took a deep breath, then looked at me. ‘You did the right thing, Oz, telling her to vanish. First she finds her fiance’s body, then she’s caught standing over the girl he’s been having it off with. It would have been all over for her; she’d have gone down for twenty years.’
‘She might still. They’re bound to find out she was here.’
‘I don’t know that; you never told me that.’
‘What if they trace the call to my mobile?’
‘What call? You never had a call, and you were with me all night.’
‘Why did we turn up at the scene, then?’
‘There’s a sign on the gate saying that these premises are protected by Ross Security; my phone number’s on it. I had an anonymous call at around the same time as the police, telling me that there had been an incident at Torrent. I came straight here, bringing you along for the ride since you were with me at the time.’
‘What if they check to make sure there was a call to you?’
He gave me an offended look. ‘They won’t: most of the CID in this division used to be under my command. Their boss is my brother Mason, and so are some of them.’
‘If it’s that cut and dried, can I get out of here?’
‘As soon as the CID arrive, yes; take my car and leave it at the Mound when you go to Glasgow. But before you do any of that, I want you to find Alison. Call her mobile, and tell her everything’s under control. If she isn’t waiting there already, tell her to go home, as normal. You meet her there, get her calmed down and settled in and, most important of all, take the shoes she was wearing and scrub the soles; make sure they’re spotless. Tell her to sit tight and wait for me; I’d better stay at her place tonight.’
‘You think she’s actually in danger?’
He gave me a ‘Be patient, he’s an idiot’ look. ‘Someone’s tried to frame her for two murders, and failed twice. What will they do next? Of course she’s in fucking danger!’