10 A goddess appears; Blue is dead. A corpse fails to digest.


c7.3 If the industrial revolution had never happened, central Scotland would still be a high, boggy moorland where nothing thrived.

c7.4 But the coal, iron ore and limestone which lies underneath it once powered the blast furnaces and machine shops of the Clyde.

c7.6 Most of that is gone now, leaving the countryside strewn with remains: half buried brick walls, slag heaps, mining villages..

c7.7 …where no one is now a miner. But there is a patch of country by Falkirk where there were few minerals to be had and the land is undisturbed.

c7.8 It was on the narrow roads among those low hills and boggy farms that Euan and Janice drove in the failing light.

c7.9 They were looking for West Forth Timber, a company that dealt in sawn timber imported through Grangemouth. According to Euan’s research,

c8.0  Wee Fergie owned it.  They found it eventually, after much back-tracking, in a hollow which had once been a quarry.

c8.1 It wasn’t much of a place. There were stacks of roofing timbers, a road trailer with no cab and a tumble-down shed.

c8.2 The blue paint was flaking from the sign, but ‘West Forth Timber – for all your building needs’ was just legible.

c8.3 “I’m not getting out,” said Janice. “It’s all muddy. I’ve only these shoes for work.”
“Suit yourself,” said Euan.

c8.5 He opened the door, got out and stretched. Then he walked towards the shed, where a light glowed in the onrushing twilight.

c8.6 Torn between wrecking her shoes and missing the story, Janice followed, trying uselessly to pick the dry spots. It slowed her.

c8.7 She hesitated in the shed’s doorway. A huge man in filthy overalls was talking to Euan. His hands had oil deeply ingrained.

c8.8 “I don’t know who you are, pal,” the  figure was saying. “I don’t know you from Adam, so on yer way…”

c8.9 Turning his back, he picked up a rag and started to clean a pulley that was lying on the bench behind him. “You’re wee Fergie..

c9.0 ..I remember you. You once gave me a horse you’d carved from wood. My dad and you went drinking. You brought him home, once…

c9.1 when he couldn’t stand and when my Mum wouldn’t touch him you put him to bed yourself.”
“What if I did? It was a long time ago”

c9.2 He picked up the pulley and flexed his hands round it, trying to straighten something. “On your road, son, I’ve nothing to say”

c9.3 “Another night,” said Euan, dropping his voice, “you broke the gate.” He wasn’t persuading, Janice knew, just remembering.

c9.4 “because you were drunk and it was dark, and you couldn’t find the catch, so you just kicked it and it went flying, and Mum…

c9.5 yelled at you for a drunken fool, and you know what my Dad said?  He said “Wee Fergie’s the best pal I’ve ever had…

c9.6 …and I won’t hear a word against him. The best fucking pal I ever had…” Coming from Euan, in his suit and white shirt,

c9.7 ..the profanity was bright under the light. “My dad’s dead,” said Euan. “I need to know.” Big Fergie put the pulley down.

c9.8 He waved a paw towards a battered radio on a shelf. “You’re in trouble, son. The polis are after you. Euan McCrum, right?

c9.9 ..And a girl called Janice. That would be you, then?” Janice could swear he had not seen her, but he turned from the bench

c1.0.0 and stared full at her. “Who are you then? What are you doing here?”
“I’m a reporter,” said Janice. “I write for a paper.”

c1.0.1 It was not a good thing to say. “Then bugger off and write for it,” said Fergie. “Polis, press, no, no way. I’ve a business to run.

c1.0.2 I do not need the police climbing all over it. Your Dad was an eejit. He opened his mouth once too often, with the drink in him

c1.0.3 …or so they say. I’m not interested. I want you out of here.”
“OK,” said Euan.  He walked back past Janice without looking

c1.0.4 ..at her, and went towards the car, ignoring the puddles. Janice followed. There was a woman standing by the car.

c1.0.5. She was well-built, with hair that had once been blond falling to her shoulders. ‘Horses,’  thought Janice, looking at the…

c1.0.6 …no-nonsense face. ‘Horses and dogs’. “Good evening,” said Euan. In the muddy timber yard it was an odd thing to say.

c1.0.7 “You’re the missing boy,” said the woman. “I saw the car, and then I saw the number. I wrote it down when it was on the radio.

c1.0.8 I do things like that. Why are you missing?”
“I need to know something.”
The woman cocked her head. “And Wee Fergie told you?”

c1.0.9 Euan shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Oh yes it does,” said the woman. She turned on Janice. “And you are ace reporter…

c1.1.0 …Janice Boyd? Recently of the West Lothian courier, although I doubt you’ll have a job now. You aren’t much good, are you?

c1.1.1 Wee Fergie will sing like a canary if you press the right button. I should know, I’m his bidie-in. The right button is brandy….

c1.1.2 …not whisky, he can’t stand it. It’s his dark Scottish secret. But brandy… it makes his pals laugh. They think it’s posh.

c1.1.3 Come. Leave the car. Fergie can put it in the barn. You need a place to sleep. I’ll talk to Fergie.”
“Why?” asked Janice

c1.1.4 The woman turned. “I’m an Icelander. My name is Bryndis Fridasdottir. You know what that means?” Janice shook her head

c1.1.5 “Bryndis means armoured goddess, and Frida means peace. So you see I don’t care about nothing at all. Not the police,

c1.1.6 Not about what’s going on. Not even about Fergie.” She laughed. “Only my horses.  But I care  about peace.

c1.1.7 And you two may be many things, but you are not peaceful. So you come home, you eat, you play with my dogs, you sleep.

c1.1.8 and maybe you get one night’s peace. And in that night I shall speak to Fergie, and then Fergie tells you what you need,

c1.1.9 no doubt about it, or life will go hard with him, and he will rue the day he sold lousy roof timber to an armoured goddess.”

c1.2.0 She gave a great gurgle of laughter and strode ahead of them down the road. Around the corner there were lights glowing

c1.2.1 and the open doors of a stable. Janice followed, feeling happy for the first time since lunch. Euan walked behind, lost

c1.2.2 somewhere unfathomable. <

[I looked up bidie-in. Very cute word.]
[But I am kinda worried about Janice– I think she may be pregnant.]
[No! I am NOT standing for that!]
[Janice is NOT pregnant. And if you make her pregnant, unpleasant things will happen]
[It is not nice when co-authors threaten one another.]
[I was just speculating about Janice. You ARE taking her to a stable, & it IS almost Christmas…]
[Oh I see. No, wait. It’s actually October. And she may not be a virgin. Saved.]


34.8 Someone from the school had visited Blue and got no answer. The apartment building supervisor opened the door for the police.

 34.9 The initial officer had done a quick look and then locked the door and called the station. A forty-something guy, suddenly dead…

 35.0 Now there were police cars, security tape and a call in to the State Mobile Crime Lab. A county Major Crime Team was being organized.

 35.1 The Lincoln County D.A. was away, so Chief Barnes met the media at the station. He was brief.

35.2 “A man found dead in his apartment in Newport. An investigation is underway. Release of identity is pending notification of family.”

35.3 By two p.m. Detective Zachary Brown stood in Blue’s living room. Lieutenant Chase stood beside him, tall and silent.

35.4 “Another day in paradise,” Zach said, as they looked at the dead body. “Whatcha got, lieutenant?”
“Big head gash, maybe hit the hearth…”

 35.5 “…and a brandy glass with lipstick, visa receipt for the BlackFish on Friday night. Lorazepam in the bathroom. There’s a laptop, & a cell…”

 35.6 Zach walked around and viewed the body from another angle. “That fall kill him, you think?”
“Maybe,” Hugo said. “That and brandy and the benzos maybe.”

35.7 “The state mobile lab will be a couple hours coming. Owen wants you back asap. He’s building a team. And looking for relatives.”

 35.8 “You’re here till the lab is done,” Zach said.
“Yeah,” Hugo said, “and the mortuary’s waiting a call.”

 35.9 Zachary Brown looked like he might have a headache. His little girl had a ballet recital at 3:oo, which he would miss. Emma would understand…

 36.0 …but Kristin wouldn’t. He wondered, briefly, if Emma would grow up to be a more reasonable woman than her mom.

 36.1 As Zach walked away from the building, one of Blue’s neighbors saw the words on the back of his coat, and called to him.

 36.2 “Hey, Detective!” Zach turned and looked back. It was an elderly man, excited to talk. “I been here,” he said. “I’m always here!”

 36.3 Zach nodded.That guy would be on the walk-&-talk follow-up—like all the apartment residents. A great job for someone else, he thought.

 36.4 In his mind he continued with the list of things for this investigation. He hoped for a Lincoln City Police kid, Jeremy, for tech.

 36.5 And Barclay for interviews. One of those ‘talk the panties off a nun’ guys, better than Roberts. He really hoped for Barclay.

 36.6 Back at the building that housed City Hall & the Newport Police, Zach met two city secretaries on the way in.He smiled & kept walking.

 36.7 After he passed, one of the women whispered to the other, “See that?”
The other answered, “You’re right– a Richard Gere smile.”

 36.8 About the time Emma was dancing in her pink tutu Zachary was sitting in an office at the station with Owen Barrows, the team lead.

 36.9“Okay Detective,” Owen said. “That’s the Major Crime Team. Meet at 4:30. Let me know when the body hits the mortuary..”

 37.0“Right,” Zach said. He wasn’t happy. Roberts, Lincoln County, was the interviewer. Maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe there was no murder.

 37.1 When he got back to the scene the state lab people were just stowing their tests. “Hey Zach.” It was Melanie, one of their best.

 37.2 “Mel.” He nodded. “Got what you need here?” They’d taken blood, swabbed the mouth, hands, nails…bagged and sealed everything.

 37.3 Melanie locked a case and picked it up. “Yes sir,” she said. “Got it all. Let us know what secrets you want.” She smiled.

 37.4 The mortuary picked up the body. The Newport Medical Examiner arrived there and took a look. He telephoned the Crime Team Lead.

 37.5 “Owen,” he said. “I think an autopsy wouldn’t be stupid. I ordered it. The body will be in  Clackamas tomorrow morning.”<


a4.1 It was Tuesday 25 October. Still an hour to go until Bill could slide out for a lunchtime pie.  He’d been in meetings since 8. Food…

a4.2 Food was a necessity. Did the Livingston boys not eat? He looked around the room he’d commandeered. The one window had a view of a wall,

a4.3 and even that was ruined by bomb curtains. Officially he should be in Edinburgh, but he’d argued to take a small team out to Livingston.

 a4.4 Edinburgh was always seen to hog the interesting stuff. It might help counter that to have a base out here.

a4.5  Also, The actors and the evidence were in West Lothian, and there was a case for the investigation being here too. Bill had put these points.

a4.6 The point he had not made was that West Lothian was a different world. It had none of the smooth superficialities of the capital.

a4.7 People said what they thought, usually proceeded by adjectives. It was a place that had been battered for a hundred years.

a4.8 Industries closed. New towns built. New hope, then new despair as policies made elsewhere failed again. Deep religious divides.

a4.9 This wasn’t purely a West Lothian crime. But there were tendrils spreading over the district, even if their roots were elsewhere.

a5.0 So he needed to be here.  Bill stopped reflecting. Facts were now coming in in a steady stream. Burns had it right:

a5.1 ‘Facts are chiels that winnae ding.’ A great motto for a detective, even one from Yorkshire. The corpse, for a start, had been human,

a5.2 but was now just a sequence of facts. Identity confirmed as Fergie Armstrong. Cause of death, blow to the head by terra-cotta pot.

 a5.3 Time of death approximately 4pm on Sunday evening. Drug not the cause of death. Corpse clean of usual drugs and alchohol,

a5.4 but evidence of tropane-alkaloid drug in blood. Sample sent to forensic toxicologist. Last meal: burger, chips, brown sauce,

a5.5 but digestive state possibly incompatible with time of death. Bill wondered what the hell that meant. He phoned.

a5.6 “Aye?” said the phone. Like all forensic pathologists, Andrew Mulligan cultivated an air of sardonic detachment. It extended

a5.7 to never answering the phone with his name or profession. He claimed it would put off female callers. The secrets of the dead, and an enthusiasm for revealing them could do that,

a5.8  Bill agreed. He wondered about Andrew’s profile on the internet dating sites he was rumoured to frequent. Bill had never dared ask him.
“About this meal?”
“Ah, Bill Williams, did you breakfast well?”

a5.9″Coffee, bacon roll, yes.”
“I ask, because you might consider if your victim would have enjoyed his burger and chips just before he was killed?

a6.0 Because…” continued the pathologist, “Either he ate it immediately before his death, or else the drug he was on slowed down his guts so much…

a6.1 that what he had eaten at a reasonable hour for a Scotsman to take luncheon, let us say back of twelve, gave the general  appearance

a6.2 of having been consumed closer to tea time. It had barely passed into the duodenum. Yet there is evidence from the stomach acids

a6.2.1 that lunch time was indeed it…” There was a munching sound on the line. “Excuse my sandwich. It’s the Irish ability

a6.3 to talk and eat at the same time.” The munching stopped. “Now, DI Williams, here is a mystery, upon which other mysteries grow.

a6.4 Tropane-alkaloid drugs, one of which, through much sweat of the brain, I have concluded your victim had in his blood…”

a6.5 …can have this effect, but not to this degree on sub-lethal dosage. Do you hear that, Detective Williams?

a6.6 Bill closed his eyes. He knew what was coming next: an Irishman’s impression of a demented Scottish Calvinist. “We mun all

a6.7 wrastle wi oor doots, Detective, an’ greater minds than mine will throw God’s ain licht on the matter nae doot, but….”

a6.8 …and there came a pause for another bite of sandwich…”but a dose sufficient to cause that degree of peristaltic immobility

a6.9 would have left your victim a corpse a considerable time before God’s wrath descended on his head through the agency of a garden pot.

a7.0 Think on that, Detective, and may God’s grace enlighten you in your travails, fur it’s no elightened me.” The line went dead.

a7.1 Bill found he had lost his lust for facts. He also wondered about his lunchtime pie. Maybe it could wait. He considered.

a7.2 There were two strands to this, and both involved messages. At the Broxburn end, a lot of sand was being thrown in his eyes.

a7.3 Cats, tweed jackets, possibly even the murdered man. Maybe they weren’t that important. Bill’s mind returned to the cotinus,

a7.4 with its roots spread over the crushed skull. The missing plants. And now this drug, with its ability to slow digestion.

a7.5 Maybe they were more important? Then there was the other strand. Messages on Twitter, directed at Euan McCrum. He’d fled.

a7.6 Why hadn’t Janice bailed, the minute she saw what she might be dragged into? Had she been hooked by a message too? He stirred.

a7.7 “What news of McCrum?” he shouted to the room. “Where is he?” “Nothing more, Sir” came a voice. Bill grunted, pulled out a pad.

a7.8 “We have the car logged by a camera on the M9 before the Grangemouth slip road. After that, nothing?”
“There was a phone call,”

a7.9 came the same voice, “Sheila, from the cafe Torino, logged at 11 am.”
“Why haven’t I seen that?”
“It’s on your screen, Sir,”

a8.0 The voice was now disapproving. “Look”, said Bill quietly, “I don’t like screens. I hate Twitter. I hate Facebook.

a8.1 If you find something interesting, tell me, OK? I don’t bite. Now, what was it?”
“Call from someone called Sheila at the Cafe Torino, Grangemouth.

a8.2 Said a young couple matching the description on the radio were there at tea time last night. They left about quarter to four.”

a8.3 “And?”
“It’s over our boundary, Sir, but I spoke to Falkirk and they’ll send someone round to see her.”
“Nothing else?”

a8.4 Falkirk would go in their own good time,  thought Bill. Which strand was more important? He had few resources,

a8.5 Where should he throw them? He decided, without thinking. “Get someone round to Mrs. McCrum again. Find out every name you can.

a8.6 His friends, her friends, his relatives, his online pals. Especially anyone living within thirty miles of Grangemouth.

a8.7 The same for Janice Boyd, her friends, her work, her family.  Any information, straight to me as soon as you get it.”

a8.8 Bill was suddenly aware that two people were in the room who weren’t there a minute ago. He turned. A uniformed sergeant,

a8.9 built like a boxer with a shaved head beneath the cap. And a tiny woman constable, face like leather. A good team, Bill thought.

a9.0 “We tried to go through channels..,” began the Sergeant, “but..” he shrugged. “It’s maybe not important, but they said, why not,

a9.1 seeing as the team’s here, go on in..?”
“At the desk,” said the policewoman. “They said…”
“And?” asked Bill

a9.2 “We got a call to a torched car on the A70. About 9am. In a layby. An old land-rover.”
“Nothing unusual,” put in the Sergeant,

a9.3 Happens all the time. Kids take a car, joy ride for a bit, take it into the hills, torch it. Evidence gone.

a9.4 Usually they choose something a bit faster than a Land-Rover though. Still.”  He fell silent. There was a pause. Bill waited.

a9.5 “It’s just that some of the young ones were on ‘Twitter’,” said the constable, making it sound like an exotic perversion,

a9.6 “and they said there was something about roadside flowers saying something. Well..”  She stopped in her turn.
“Go on”, said Bill

a9.7 “It’s just that there were these flowers planted on the edge of the layby by the burned car. You don’t often see that.”

a9.8 “Can you tell me any more about these flowers,?” asked Bill. “We’re not exactly gardeners, Sir,” replied the Sergeant,

a9.9 “But they were blue.”
“And there was that stick thing, Jim,” said the constable.
“Yes, Sir, there was a sort of tree. Small.”

a1.0 “Thank you,” said Bill, “That’s been more help than you can imagine.” He gave a smile of dismissal. Inwardly, he seethed.

a1.2 The minute he had decided to concentrate on Euan and Janice,#uncannydeath had returned to touch him on the shoulder.

a1.3 He sighed, got to his feet, went over to a desk in the corner where Shona sat immersed in the web. “Come on,” he said.

a1.4 “Your roadside flowers have been found. Let’s go and take a look, shall we? See what they say?<

2 thoughts on “10 A goddess appears; Blue is dead. A corpse fails to digest.

  1. Grace says:

    You had me at “A great gurgle of laughter…”

    Great story. Hurry up and post more. 🙂

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