37.6 By Monday evening Blue’s family in Ohio had been called, and his name and the report of his death were on local news.
37.7 Billy found himself thinking again about sweet David, the love of his life, who died at forty. Billy knew a great deal about loss.
37.8 It was late evening when he drove to Iris’s dome house, but she and Jill were still up, sitting together in a dim corner.
37.9 Iris held a glass of wine, and offered him some, but he went to Jill. He didn’t miss much, and he hadn’t missed her crush on Blue.
38.0 He pulled her to her feet for a hug. She put her face against his shoulder, and he tried to comfort her. “It’s okay sweetheart. Really.”
38.1 Billy looked over her head at Iris, who also looked miserable. “Jill,” he said. She was quiet. “What if you help me solve this?”
38.2 He went on. “We can work together.”
She pulled away and looked at him.
“Solve it?” she said. Her eyes were wet.
“Yeah,” Billy said. “Solve it..”
38.3 “But the police–” she said.
“Of course.” Billy withdrew his cigarette case & lighter from an inside coat pocket, then hesitated.
38.4 He glanced at Iris with raised eyebrows. “Oh all right,” she said. Billy lit his cigarette & Iris went in search of an ashtray.
38.5 “The police here are good,” he said. “Especially one detective– but we shall see.” It was not a smoke ring he blew, but something…”
38.6 He watched the smoke. “It’s a duck,” he said, and Jill had to smile. “In the meantime,” he continued, “I received this peculiar text message.”
38.7 He read aloud his text greeting from “Uncanny Death.” Then he interested Jill in doing a little research together on her laptop.
38.8 Searches led on: Twitter, British papers. Then they found Billy’s own name together with “Uncanny Death” in a brand new AP story.
38.9 “A young couple has fled a gruesome killing, clutching Killin’s recent best-seller…Death in Orkney…“lots of love from #Uncanny Death.”
39.0 Jill was fascinated. Billy stared “I’ll have some of your wine now Iris,” he said. “And do you have that book of mine Jill?”
39.1 “I have them all Billy,” Jill said, and she brought Death In Orkney from her bedroom bookshelf and sat down beside him on the couch.
39.2 He opened the collection to the list of titles. Jill looked too and pointed a finger. “This story,” she said, “‘Planted Deep.’ It’s about a garden.”
39.3 “It’s not set in Scotland,” Billy said. “I think the title story, “Death in Orkney.” He opened the book to this one, remembering.
39.4 “Yes,” he said. Jill looked over at the pages. Billy continued. “A very complicated murder. A madwoman, poison, and violence.”
39.5 He continued. “If my message is from the murderer–very odd. People who play around like this–it’s not just, say, greed…
39.6“…and they have a serious case of hubris–with the usual outcomes.” He handed the book back to Jill & rose. “I think some sleep, now.”
39.7 The next morning Jill sat up in her bed, propped with pillows. It was early, and her computer was in her lap.
39.8 She found two emails. Billy wrote simply “Go to school.” She smiled. Billy might be her best friend right now–he understood her.
39.9 The other letter was from her mom. Rare. “Hi Jill,” it read. “Waiting in London for your dad to get back. Doing a little shopping.
40.0 He’s off on one of his side trips, this time to Edinburgh.” Jill pictured her mother in her mind. Laura Oat. Tall, slim–not gorgeous.
40.1 But she would be dressed in maybe a cashmere jacket, a silk blouse and Neiman Marcus jeans. Her nails in whatever new hot color…
40.2…and her hair perfectly cut by some elite salon in a world capital. Such a contrast to Adam, her disheveled husband.
40.3 Jill smiled and thought of her dad. Corduroy pants, Filson wool jacket, hiking boots. “Opposites attract,” she said to herself.
40.4 The email continued. “Wish you were here Jill–saw some leather boots you’d like for school…” Right mom, she thought, as if you know.
40.5 “I may send you a pair anyway. Your dad was supposed to call me. I don’t know why he thinks it’s ok to make me wait…”
40.6 “We’ll be home before long. I am so looking forward to spending some quality time together.” Yeah, you bet. Jill closed the computer.
40.7 She sighed. As she dressed for school her parents lingered in her mind. She wondered what drove them so, on & on & on.
40.8 And how did they pay their expensive way? Sale of that antenna business, really? Her mother often complained of being left alone…
40.9 But if Dad happened to be ten minutes late she would email that she had been brutally abandoned.
41.0 “That Billy,” Jill thought. “He’s got me suspecting everything.” She moved toward the kitchen–suddenly breakfast sounded okay.
41.1 Tuesday at noon Billy made himself a salad. He’d called Iris, and yes, Jill had left for school. At least that mission was accomplished.
41.2 All the real-life mysteries were keeping him from writing. He’d left his poor Rosalind lying there, under that broken chandelier…
41.3 He looked again at the phone text from “Uncanny Death,” and he considered calling the police in Scotland. Instead he entered a reply.
41.4 “Glad you like my stories. But what’s new with you?” The number might no longer work. But he hit ‘send’ and it went—somewhere.
41.5 The reply from Uncanny Death was instant. “Done a little gardening. Thanks for asking.” He tried to track the number, but got nowhere.
41.6 Billy thought for a moment. He ate his salad. He made some more coffee and brought in his mail. Then he went to his Twitter account.
41.7 @killinswrites tweeted to @uncannydeath: “Glad you’ve found time for gardening.” There. He had contacted the Scottish police.<
e3.7 At 7.35 am on the same Tuesday in Seattle, Mart Cruickshank had stepped off the overnight flight from Tokyo. He had an hour to spare.
e3.8 Then he was catching another flight East. He picked a handful of newspapers off the bookstand and bought a double espresso.
e3.9 He was leafing idly through the Seattle Times when his eye fell on the same AP story that Billy had spotted online.
e4.0 The paper had cut it down to a single paragraph and used it as a news filler, but Killins, Scotland and #uncanny death were there.
e4.1 Mart reached in his briefcase for a highlighter. He read the story again. He highlighted it in green.Then he reached for his cellphone.
e4.2 It was when the number rang out that he remembered many US phones didn’t work in Europe. Travellers used a local SIM card instead.
e4.3 He reverted to e-mail. ‘adam@antennamail,’ he typed. Then ‘You need to move faster. The link is made. What/who is uncanny death?
e4.4 And why now? Plse send all you have. Mart.’ He tried to phone Evie, but there was no answer and no voicemail. Mart was a patient man.
e4.5 There was no huge hurry, yet. He’d wait until he reached Boston and then see what he could find. He sipped his coffee and pondered.<
c1.2 In the farmhouse near Slamannan, they were finishing breakfast. Euan, Janice, Bryndis and Wee Fergie round a table.
c1.3 The Scandinavian furniture and white walls gave the farmhouse kitchen a brightness that was not really in its nature.
c1.4 Brightness was not in Wee Fergie’s nature this morning either. He had the sullen expression of a circus bear faced with a whip
c1.5 Bryndis, on the other hand, was as cheerful as sunshine. “We have finished,” she announced, “and now is time for Fergie.”
c1.6 “I’ve not much to say,” said Wee Fergie to Euan. “Your Dad was working down at Newcastleton. Somewhere in Kielder forest, I heard.”
c1.7 I dropped by once. He was renting a cottage in the village. We went to the pub. Your dad got things into his head, you know?
c1.8 He said he’d got hold of something at work – didn’t say what. He was looking for a buyer. So I asked “What kind of buyer?”
c1.9 He wouldn’t say, but when we got back to the cottage, just as I was leaving, he said “Fergie, come and see this.” So we went…
c2.0 …through the kitchen. There was a wee greenhouse tacked on the back. Like an oven, it was. “Here,” says your Dad. “Look at these.”
c2.1 There were three big plants in pots. Ugly things, tropical looking. “So?” says I “Why are you growing thistles?” It was a joke,
c2.2 but when he had something in the head, your Dad and jokes didn’t mix. “They’re not thistles” was all he said. Then he reached up to a shelf.
c2.3 It was full of packets of plant food and stuff. He reached in and came out with a wee glass tube of liquid.
c2.4 “Do you know what this is?” Now, I was wanting to get on the road, and I couldn’t take this seriously. “It’s a piss sample.”
c2.5 “It’s not piss,” says your Dad. “I know what it is. I sent some away to be analysed. Could be valuable.” I laughed; you see..
c2.6 …it was so like your Dad to go in for mad schemes. “Listen”, I says, “folk have been trying to turn piss to gold for years.
c2.7 Give over. You’re a forester, not a wizard.” Fergie moulded one giant hand around a coffee cup. He paused. “It was the last time I saw him.
c2.8 Three, four weeks later we got word he was dead. A tree fell on him when he was working on his own, so they say.”
c2.9 “But you wonder?” asked Bryndis. “Aye, now and again. I wonder.” Fergie got up from the table. Bryndis looked across at Janice
c3.0 Janice had gone white. “What?” asked Bryndis, suddenly serious. “The book,” said Janice. “Euan was sent this book of stories.
c3.1 I couldn’t sleep last night, so I got the book and read one or two. There’s one called ‘Among the trees.’ It’s about a man
c3.2 who works in a forest. He finds a packet of diamonds under a tree. Then he’s murdered. And to hide the crime the murderer
c3.3 cuts down a tree so it falls on the corpse and looks like an accident. And then….”Janice stopped. Bryndis and Euan waited.
c3.4 “The stories are mostly set in Scotland,” said Janice. “There’s one in Orkney, another in Aberdeen, one in Glasgow
c3.5 But ‘Among the trees’ is set in Kielder forest. The victim lives in Newcastleton.” Even Bryndis seemed lost for words..
c3.6 Euan raised his head and looked at Janice. “So that’s why,” he said. “That’s why Uncanny Death sent me the book.”<
41.8 After lunch Billy tried to write. Then the thought of that dead woman under the chandelier reminded him of a dead man under a tree.
41.9 He opened a copy of Death in Orkney, and thumbed through it to a story titled “Among the Trees.” He sat back, remembering. It had been years.
42.0 The pub in Newcastleton. A very fine ale. And some folks at the next table who thought they might entertain an American with local news.
42.1 When they had mentioned a man found dead beneath a fallen tree, Billy was inspired. “Among the Trees” was his version of that story.
42.2 He glanced at a calendar. He’d love to know what was going on in Scotland. He could perhaps just climb on a plane and see for himself….
42.3 And maybe take Jill with him. Get her out of town–away from Blue’s death. Ever since that cat died…But he had a publisher waiting.
42.4 Then he noticed a new tweet to him from @uncannydeath: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to see it, does it hide a murder?”
42.5 Evie called Iris in the afternoon. “I have a couple laborers set to cultivate the east beds,” she said, “then we can add some compost.”
42.6 “Oh Evie,” Iris said. “Could we put it off a little? We are rather taken up here with the death of a friend, one of Jill’s teachers…”
42.7 Evie spoke in a different voice. “Oh yes,” she said. “I knew him–Blue.” She hesitated. “Actually I dated him Iris.”
42.8 “Oh,” Iris said, surprised. “Well, then you know.”
“But I had broken off with him. And to be honest Iris, I am seeing Wendell.”
42.9 Iris was silent. Evie continued. “Wendell is just the dearest man. No one has ever treated me like he does—he’s so sweet & kind.”
43.0 Iris still said nothing.“Well,” Evie went on. “Let me know when you would like the work to begin. On the gardens. I’ll be waiting.”.”
43.1 “And Iris,” she continued, “I hope we can be more than business acquaintances. I hope, for Wendell’s sake, we can be friends.”
43.2 “Yes, thanks,” Iris said, & she hung up. Evie knew she wasn’t pleased, but it didn’t matter. Evie would pursue her own interests here.
43.3 She needed to do something about the missed call from Mart. “Damn,” she said, and she clicked him a text. “I am busy.” Selfish bastard.
43.4 After Evie’s call, Iris stood staring at her phone & thinking of her brother. “Poor silly man,” she said aloud. Then she called him.
43.5 “Iris!” he answered with happy energy.
“Wendell,” she said. “What is going on?”
“Why Iris, I am just having a great day. “
43.6 Then his voice changed. “Except I heard about Blue. That was terrible. But I think I’d heard you say he drank too much.”
43.7 “Lots of people drink too much,” Iris said. “What is this about you and Evie? I hope you are acting your age Wendell.”
43.8 He laughed. “Listen Iris,” he said. “I am actually gonna save you some bucks. We’re moving Evie out of the Sylvia Beach Hotel…”
43.9 “…and she’s moving in with me.”
“What?” Iris said. “Isn’t this kind of sudden? Moving in with you? Are you sure about this Wendell?”
44.0 Wendell was sure. “Aren’t you happy for me Iris? You’re always happy for people. Evie is just the best girl. And she really likes me!”
44.1 Adam Oat leaned against a stone building on George Street in Edinburgh, a backpack on his shoulder. He didn’t like the questions from Mart Cruikshank.
44.2 Mart pretended patience, but he really wanted everything done yesterday or maybe the day before that. Adam hated pressure.
44.3 Then there was Adam’s distressed wife, Laura, leaving messages every hour. As if she had explored all the stores in London already.
44.4 She’d make an excellent saint. Not with real sacrificial pain of course. Maybe just a credit limit or stores shut early. Saint Laura.
44.5 He looked at his watch. He glanced up and down the street. A woman was watching him.
44.6 He moved on until she turned away. This was stupid. He wrote a text to Brennen. “Where the hell?” He was angry. It was hard to breathe.
44.7 There was an email on his phone, from daughter Jill. Adam read it while he waited at All Bar One for a sandwich that he didn’t really want.
44.8 “Billy K has a story linked to a real murder—in Scotland Dad! I thought you ought to know. Twitter: #uncannydeath!”
44.9 He knew the Twitter address was toxic. Adam felt his blood pressure rising. How did Jill get drawn into this? He felt dizzy, and faint.
45.0 When the big man hit the floor the waitress screamed. The bartender shouted, “Oh be useful!” so she went for a phone.<
[You’re not going to knock off Adam for heaven’s sake? I really need him]
[So what happens next?…I’m on tenterhooks here]
[Surely you can write faster than 11 minutes between tweets? Can’t stand the suspense. Off to get something to eat….]
[I KNEW you were reading. It inhibits my creativity, that fear of ambush.]
[I didn’t intervene ONCE. Nor was I going to. Please continue]
[I just hope this Brennen guy is good…]
[Brennen is YOUR new character. I have no idea about him. And Adam… might be ok. Really mostly it’s hard to be married to Laura I think.]
[I think Adam just has a mild case of indigestion]
[Ok, I really am off now. I swear not to look at Twitter for one hour….]
[I will go look for a doctor for Adam. I think I better hurry.]
45.1 Before the waitress could make a call, a customer came through the door. He saw the situation immediately.“I’m a physician,” he said.
45.2 He moved quickly to the side of the fallen man & knelt beside him. As he began to evaluate his condition Adam awoke.“I’m okay,” he said.
45.3 He rose up on one elbow. He looked foggy. “Get him some water,” the doctor said, and they brought him a glass. Soon, with help, he was on his feet.
45.4 “Let me take you to the clinic,” the doctor said. “You’d best have some tests, to see what really happened.”
45.5 Adam said nothing, but allowed the doctor to carry his pack and to help him out of the pub and into the back seat of a cab.
45.6 As they drove away together Adam turned. His companion was smiling.“Brennen, you bastard,” Adam said weakly. “Where have you been?”
45.6.1 Adam looked pale. His head tipped & he kept his eyes closed for long minutes. Brennen patted his arm, and looked at him.
45.7 “I don’t think my being late should have done this to you,” Brennen said. “Hey, think you need a real doctor?”
45.8 “You better hope I don’t,” Adam breathed. “You are quick on your feet,” he added in a whisper. He leaned away, against the door.
45.8.1 “I didn’t want you being read like a book at some hospital,” Brennen said. But Adam looked like a hospital might be just what he needed<