a1.5 In Scotland, it was still Tuesday afternoon. Low clouds were blowing in off the Forth, shrouding the Pentland Hills.
a1.6 Bill and Shona stood at the edge of a lay-by on the road from Edinburgh to Lanark. In summer it was a popular picnic spot.
a1.6 But at this time of year, and in this weather, it was a bleak place. Bog, rough grass and conifer forest. The hills, unseeing.
a1.7 The neat patches of blue flowers dug into the gravel around the burnt-out shell of a Land-Rover looked entirely out of place.
a1.8 “I think we have found Mr Bain’s missing plants,” said Bill. “What were they?”
“Violas and Amelanchier,” said Shona.
a1.9 “They look like pansies to me. Maybe one or other is the posh name for a pansy.”
“That would be the violas,” said Shona.
a2.0 Bill glanced at her. “I didn’t know you were a gardener?” Shona shrugged. “Not a proper one. Only window-boxes.”
a2.1 “So what are they saying, the flowers? What do roadside flowers say, remember?”
“The pansies could be Shakespeare,” said Shona
a2.2 “And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts… It’s from Hamlet.” Bill glanced at her again. He suddenly felt old and ignorant.
a2.2 Shona felt the weight of the glance. “There’s not a lot to do in the Islands except read,” she said.
a2.3 “I expect Shakespeare helps at chucking out time in the pubs,” said Bill, trying to lighten the tone. “What about amelanchier?”
a2.4 Shona shook her head. They stared at the pansies. A small, bitter wind ruffled the grasses. “This is going nowhere,” said Bill.
a2.5 “We had better have photographs, call out the Scene of Crime boys in case there are footprints or something, tape the place off.
a2.6 “We’ll call from the car. At least it’s warm there.”
“Could the other plant be part of it?” asked Shona. “The cotinus.”
a2.7 “Maybe,” said Bill. “Viola, cotinus, amelanchier. It’s probably an anagram.” They returned to the car and turned on the heater.
a2.8 While they waited for a team to arrive, they played anagrams. Bill came up with ‘a violent choir lames uni’. No revelation.
a2.9 Then he found ‘Allan, Tina’s, voice crime’, but there was no Allan or Tina in the case so far. Drizzle speckled the windscreen.
a3.0 A van full of earnest police arrived. Bill sighed. “Well, it got us out of the office. You think of anything, let me know.”
a3.1 “I’ll do that, Sir,” said Shona, formal again in the presence of colleagues. “It’s probably something quite simple.”<
54.5 Wendell & Evie carried her belongings into his apartment. Lunch was set on the table: cold smoked salmon, bread and beer. She smiled.
54.6 He watched then as she wandered around the few rooms; he couldn’t believe his good luck. But he had a worry, in the back of his mind.
54.7 Natasha. Why did he even go there? What could that woman know about Evie anyway? It was just Iris’s foolishness and didn’t matter.
54.8 But as they sat down to eat Wendell found himself talking about it. “Evie,” he said, “is there anything I can help you with?”
54.9 She glanced up and spoke. “Did you clean out some closet space? And a drawer in the bathroom?”
55.0 “Yeah sure,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of clothes. But I mean is there anything else, anything wrong or bothering you?”
55.1 She stared at him, and it seemed like a little spark came out of her eyes as she said, “Why on earth do you ask that?”
55.2 It was a new voice, one he hadn’t heard before. It was cold and critical– a voice he would go a long way in future to avoid
55.3 “I just want to make you happy,” he said. “Nothing else.” She smiled tolerantly, and they toasted their new life together.
55.4 That is when her cell phone rang. It was a detective from the Newport Police, calling to set up an interview. Her voice warmed.
55.5 “Oh of course.” she said. “No, not today. Can I call you back Detective, after I check my schedule? Great. I’ll get right back to you.”
55.6 She shut the phone and continued eating. Wendell waited. She said nothing. “The police?” he asked finally.
55.7 “Of course,” she said. She sipped the beer. “They’re interviewing practically the whole town, about Blue. It’s their job.”
55.8 “Well,” he said, “so what’s on this busy schedule anyway?” He was making conversation–and taking an interest.
55.9 “Oh you know,” she said. “I mean, I don’t want to walk away from you, after I just got here.” He felt the familiar warmth from her.
56.0 The world was right again. “But I do have an appointment, too.” She ruffled her hair. “It is a blond you invited to live here!”
56.1 Her hair looked perfect to him, dark roots and all, but he laughed and felt flattered. Soon she left, and Wendell washed the dishes.
56.2 When Adam had arrived in London he couldn’t get up and walk. Laura finally found him, with a little help from the train personnel.
56.3 His first words to her were orders: “Do not tell anyone back home.” She wondered if he could be delirious.
56.4 He spent a night in the hospital and Laura went, exhausted, to her hotel. By the time she saw him again on Wednesday it was almost noon.
56.5 The doctors didn’t think it was his heart. They didn’t know what had happened, but they were doing an array of tests.
56.6 She spent the afternoon with him, but mostly he slept. As she rose to leave he spoke, again, very clearly.
56.7 “Laura you can’t tell Jill or Iris or anyone about this—I don’t want them here.” He waited–she was silent.“Did you hear what I said?”
56.8 “Of course I can tell them,” she said, standing over him with her coat on. He managed to sit forward and point a finger at her.
56.9 “No you the hell cannot!” She stepped back. He had never spoken to her like this before. She stepped back and suddenly felt very alone.
57.0“Calm down Adam,” she said, from across the room. “You may need a different medication. I can call a nurse—“
57.1 He rested back against the pillows. Laura looked frightened. She needed his care, and he needed her weakness. He smiled at her.
57.2 Laura crossed the room and kissed him on the forehead. Then she picked up her new taupe leather handbag and went to find a cab.
57.3 She felt tired of what she saw as the sacrifices—like how he refused to go sailing. (Oh to be on the sea in that outfit from Harrods.)
57.4 And he didn’t dance either. Really all he just liked to walk. Walk streets. Walk hills–some kind of primitive hunter-gatherer behavior.
57.5 Back in her hotel she discovered she was very hungry. She ordered a bottle of white wine and some quiche up to her room.
57.6 There was the laptop, on the desk, online. She touched the keyboard as she walked by, like a murderer stroking a gun.
57.7 The quiche tasted warmed-over, but the wine was French and fine. After about half the bottle she turned on the television.
57.8 Soon she fell asleep and when she awoke it was nine o’clock. She poured another glass of wine, and sat down at the computer.
57.9 “Hi Honey,” she emailed to Jill. “Dad’s in a London hospital.” She hesitated. “He collapsed –and maybe also had a mental breakdown.”<
d3.0 Wednesday morning. Stuart Ross sat at his desk at the West Lothian Courier. It was the day the paper went to bed.
d3.1 He was reading copy that he had taken down from a breathless Janice the previous afternoon. It was better than her first effort.
d3.2 She had said she was phoning from a motorway service station. She wouldn’t say where. She’d written the story in a bathroom.
d3.3 The bathroom belonged to a Goddess. The Goddess had given them money. Yes, she was fine. Now please would Stuart run the story?
d3.4 Stuart read the copy again. He’d already written his splash and didn’t want to change it. But the link to the book was new.
d3.5 He re-cast a couple of paragraphs, using Janice’s words. A son driven to search for the truth by a book sent to him by a killer.
d3.6 It wasn’t exactly the Courier’s usual take on things. But maybe for once it would wash. His editor could always pull it.
d3.7 It was better than anything he had from the police. There had been no arrests, no detail, apart from the ridiculous cat.
d3.8 Stuart reckoned they were genuinely baffled after all. He’d helped out once, but it was press day, and he’d go with what he had.
d3.9 If he was ahead of the police, so much the better. He wrote, then flicked the copy through to his editor.
d4.0 Then he logged into Amazon and bought a copy of ‘Death in Orkney’. Thought about ringing Tom Fordyce. Decided not to.
d4.1 Fifteen minutes later, he was in the editor’s office. “Does this stand up, Stuart? If not, it’s bollocks. You tell me.”
d4.2 “It’s what we had from Janice. And she’s right in there with the missing boy.”
“A girl who answers the phone, makes the coffee?
d4.3 She doesn’t know the first thing. I need this confirmed. Preferably by the police. This may be all very well for the tabloids.
d4.4 But it’s not us. Ring the police; get the facts. Then come back to me.” Stuart knew when he was beaten. “OK,” he said,
d4.5 “But what about Janice? She’s risking a lot for this.”
“Stuart, she’s not our responsibility. She’s not a journalist.”
d4.6 ‘Just possibly,’ thought Stuart, as he closed the door behind him, ‘Janice is a better journalist than you are.’
d4.7 He returned to his desk, rang Tom. There was no reply. Then, still angry, he rang a friend on STV news.
d4.8 “Alistair? I have something for you. We can’t use it. It’s connected to the Broxburn business. Seems there was a death.
d4.9 Maybe more suspicious than it looked at the time. Where? A place called Newcastleton. Yes, the Borders. And there’s a book….<
a3.2 Tuesday noon. Bill sat in his Edinburgh office and contemplated his victim. As humans go, this was not a nice specimen.
a3.3 Fergie Armstrong, lately identified by an unconcerned uncle, had been a small-time drug dealer. Before his head was bashed in.
a3.4 He had also been a child rapist. This had ended his drug dealing career. Dealers had standards, and child rapists were out.
a3.5 Which was ironic, Bill thought, given the scale of destruction drug merchants created. But none of them would use Armstrong after that.
a3.6 If anyone was unlikely to be missed by society, Fergie Armstrong was probably that person. Which in itself was interesting.
a3.7 Because it looked to Bill as though the murderer had used Mr Armstrong as an example. An example of what could be done.
a3.8 There was no need to dress up his death with all these elaborate trappings, unless the killer wanted to make a point.
a3.9 And the point was what? That a piece of lowlife could be dressed in tweed, drugged, and be killed in a nursery garden?
a4.0 It was like an advertisement, Bill thought. Solve these puzzles and win a million. His phone rang. He picked up. Shona.
a4.1 “Two more tweets of interest,” she said. “And an e-mail from Euan, sent yesterday. It just said ‘leave me alone’. I didn’t reply.
a4.2 One of the tweets appears to be from Billy Killins. The author. The one behind the Euan and Janice business. Remember?”
a4.3 “I remember.”
“It’s a random tweet with hashtag #uncannydeath. ‘Glad you found time for gardening.’ The account looks genuine.
a4.4 “Why should he tweet that?”
“I don’t know. The gardening business though…could there be contact, connections?”
a4.5 “You mean, does Mr Killins talk to our murderer?”
“It’s worth finding out, maybe, Sir.”
“Yes, it probably is. And the other?”
a4.6 “A tweet to us, Sir. Lothian and Borders. Also hashtagged #uncannydeath. ‘You are very slow. Letters and numbers please.’
“I don’t know. Maybe the flower message?”
“Not an anagram then?”
“Well, numbers too.”
“Thank you Shona. It helps.”
a4.8 “Not a problem Sir.” She rang off. Bill wondered if he should get hold of Billy Killins. Not yet, he decided
a4.9 He needed more facts. There was a steady stream of information now, but it was mostly peripheral. He needed more on the corpse.
a5.0 He rang the pathologist. “Andrew. it’s Bill. The drug?”
“Still waiting. I’m being told it’s not that easy. The mills of God.
a5.1 They grind slow, but exceeding small. Our colleagues in grace beg your indulgence.”
“When will I know?”
a5.2 “The life of a forensic toxicologist is hard,” said Andrew Mulligan. “They toil not, neither do they spin. They play golf.
a5.3 Urgency on the part of a detective eager to solve a crime is frowned upon. All the same, I shall enquire.” He hung up.
a5.4 Bill rubbed his eyes. It was hard to know what to focus on. He picked up a print-out from Falkirk. Surprisingly fast, for them.
a5.5 Sheila in the Cafe Torino confirmed Euan and Janice from photographs. Falkirk police would visit West Forth Timber today.
a5.6 He hoped Euan would be picked up soon. He was happy to dance to the tune of #uncannydeath for as long as it took.
a5.7 But Euan and Janice were a different matter. The killer was playing a game with him. For them, he might have other plans.<