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Authors: Cecilia Peartree

5 Frozen in Crime

BOOK: 5 Frozen in Crime
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Frozen in Crime

Cecilia Peartree

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Edition

©Cecilia Peartree

All rights reserved

Chapter 1 White World

Christopher stared out across the car park. A layer
of ice had formed where the compacted snow had been polished by car treads and people’s
feet, and since lunchtime he had already witnessed two minor collisions and seen
an ambulance arrive for someone who had fallen on the zebra crossing and couldn’t
get up. The sky was darkening already, and he suspected it would snow again
before nightfall.

Worst of all, he had Jock McLean in his office
wittering on about something or other.

‘… to the Canary Islands, so she can’t get anybody
else over Christmas at short notice, and I’m going to go up there and help.’

The word ‘help’ didn’t feature very prominently in
Jock’s vocabulary - particularly when it came to him helping someone else - so
Christopher glanced away from the window, frowning. ‘Who’s this you’re planning
to help? And do they know about you?’

Jock sighed, flung himself into Christopher’s
swivel chair and spun it round. His feet didn’t touch the ground. ‘I knew you
hadn’t been listening again. Well, I don’t see why I should waste my time
talking to you! I’m off to the Queen of Scots. Last time this year.’

‘The last time this year? But - the Hogmanay
Party?’

The Queen of Scots Hogmanay Party was a legend for
miles around. People still talked in hushed tones about the good old days and
how the army had once been called in to break up a particularly vicious
arm-wrestling contest between the women of Pitkirtly and those of Torryburn.

‘Hmph!’ Jock commented. ‘If you’ve seen one
Hogmanay Party, you’ve seen them all. Anyway, Rosie’s got a few friends coming
round. They know how to party in those remote places.’

‘Ah,’ said Christopher, unsure if Jock had the
right end of the stick about rural partying customs. Still, at least he now
knew Jock was heading for the cattery, run by Dave’s niece Rosie, so he wouldn’t
have to go right back to the beginning of the story. ‘What about Darren? Doesn’t
he work there any more?’

Jock gave a long-suffering sigh, and swung his
feet to and fro. He looked small and hunched in the chair. ‘I knew you hadn’t
been listening. Darren’s away to the Canary Islands. He won a prize in a
competition. In some cat magazine. He’s going off with his mother.’

Christopher still didn’t know what to make of
this. Was Jock’s plan to help at the cattery a way of getting his own back at
Darren’s mother, Tricia Laidlaw, whom he always thought Jock fancied more than
a little, or could it be that he had tired of Tricia and decided to make a play
for Rosie instead? Or was he just making a bid for martyrdom by having to work
over Christmas?

Where was Amaryllis when he needed her? Jock’s
romantic life, apart from being an area Christopher preferred not to think
about and was wary about entering at all, was far too complicated for anyone
who hadn’t been a secret agent to understand. Apart from that, Christopher had
been hoping she would pop in today as she sometimes did on a Friday, and
instead he had got stuck with Jock.

Christopher turned back to look out of the window
again. Even then he could see Jock’s reflection shining in the glass. There was
no escape from him.

Something banged sharply outside. He peered out.
There was a commotion near the supermarket at the far side of the car park.
People running away, screaming, falling over in a heap. After a moment, two
figures in black ran round the end of the building and dodged in and out among
the cars. It had started to snow again, and it was hard to see any detail, but
they seemed to be heading towards the Cultural Centre. He held his breath.

Yes, they were definitely coming in his direction.
He suppressed the urge to dive for cover, and kept watching them.

‘What’s so interesting out there?’ Jock growled,
getting down from the chair.

‘Just stay where you are,’ said Christopher,
turning back into the room slightly. Almost at once he had the insane urge to
look at the car park again. This time the running figures were much closer. Too
close for comfort, in fact. He now saw one of them was limping quite badly,
perhaps because of a fall on the ice. More haste, less speed, thought
Christopher, nodding to himself.

Suddenly one of them came almost right up to the
window and stared in. He was wearing a balaclava but Christopher just caught a
glimpse of dark, angry eyes in a pale face, before Jock caught him by the arm
and pulled him down to the floor.

‘Don’t look!’ muttered Jock in his ear, and then
something slammed against the window and they both jumped.

‘It won’t break - it’s triple-glazed,’ said
Christopher, and then, ‘Oh, my God, the front door! They could get in that way.
What if Andrew or Mollie - ?’

‘Don’t stand up,’ said Jock.

They crawled across the office to the door and
risked opening it. Out in the corridor, Christopher went from a crouching start
into a run as he looked for his staff.

Andrew and Mollie were both in the Folk Museum
explaining to a small group of mothers and toddlers how hand-loom weaving
worked. It was quiet and calm in there, a relic of a by-gone age in many
senses. Christopher didn’t waste time telling them the Cultural Centre might be
under siege. He sprinted off down the hall to the foyer, dived through the
glass doors and pulled the big wooden front door shut and locked it. There had
been two men standing just outside. He didn’t care whether they were bank
robbers, tourists or local people who wanted to come in out of the cold for a
bit. Nobody else was getting into the building.

‘I didn’t know you could move so fast,’ said Jock
McLean at his elbow.

Faintly from somewhere outside they heard the
sound of sirens. Reinforcements had arrived.

Christopher breathed deeply. He couldn’t remember
having breathed at all since he had met the angry eyes of the man in the
balaclava.

‘Pity Amaryllis isn’t here,’ said Jock. ‘She would
have enjoyed this.’

Christopher knew Amaryllis would have rushed out
after the men, probably sparking off another round of shooting from which
someone would have emerged dead. He was grateful for her absence, and only
hoped she hadn’t been caught up in anything out there.

His knees went weak and he staggered over to the
reception desk and sat down on it heavily. It gave an ominous creak but
withstood his onslaught.

‘You’ve gone a bit pale,’ said Jock critically.

‘You’d have gone a bit pale too if you’d seen him
staring in at you,’ said Christopher.

‘What was going on out there anyway?’ said Jock,
taking his pipe out of his pocket and absent-mindedly adding a bit more tobacco
to the top of the pile.

‘You can’t smoke that in here,’ said Christopher
automatically.

‘I know that!’ said Jock. ‘Thanks to the petty
bureaucrats who can’t distinguish between filthy cigarettes and traditional
healthy pipes, I’m doomed to be cast out wherever I am. It’s too cold to stand
around outside in this weather – where am I meant to go?’

As usual, the smoking issue had triggered Jock’s
deepest feelings and exacerbated the terrible burden of martyrdom he carried
around with him.

‘What was going on anyway?’ he added.

‘It looked like some sort of a robbery. Over by
the supermarket. They ran this way – the one that looked in the window at me
was wearing black and had big dark eyes.’

‘That must have been really scary,’ said Jock.
When Christopher glared at him, sensing sarcasm, he put on his injured innocent
look.

‘It was scary,’ said Christopher. ‘I think he’d
know me again. Then there was that banging on the window – do you think it was
a shot?’

‘Either that or a snowball,’ said Jock darkly. ‘I’ve
been having trouble all week with the kids across the road.’

Both men jumped as something large battered on the
outside door. Christopher wondered if Jock would ever let him hear the end of
it if he took cover under the desk.

‘Police! Open up!’

‘Thank goodness for that,’ sighed Christopher. As
he crossed the hall again he wondered how the police had found their way to the
Cultural Centre so quickly. He hesitated just before opening the door. What if
the robbers were outside pretending to be policemen? What if they rushed him
when he opened the door? What if he was the only witness and they needed to
silence him?

‘Come on, open the door!’ yelled a voice from
outside. ‘We haven’t got all day here.’

‘That’s Karen Whitefield,’ said Jock. ‘You’d
better open up. She hasn’t got a lot of patience these days. Since she was made
a Sergeant you’d think she was the Queen or somebody.’

He sketched a bow as Karen Whitefield came in,
accompanied by a very young police officer.

‘We’re after armed robbers,’ she told them. ‘We
need to search the premises – a witness told us they’d come this way.’

‘I saw them outside the window,’ said Christopher,
shivering in the draught from the open door. She gave him a critical stare.

‘You look a bit pale, Mr Wilson. Are you feeling
all right?’

‘I’m fine. Look, I don’t think they can have got
into the building. The fire exit only opens from the inside. We check it every
day to make sure it’s secure, since the incident in the corridor. This is the
only other door.’

‘Thanks, we’ll just have a quick look for
ourselves then,’ she said. She and the younger officer hurried towards the
library.

‘What’s going on?’ said Andrew, who had emerged
from the Folk Museum as they passed.

‘Armed robbery at the supermarket,’ said
Christopher. He was already getting bored with the story, and embarrassed when
he recalled his part in it. ‘We’d better not let anyone leave yet. Where’s
Mollie?’

‘She went back through to the library just now –
she had some people reading the papers in there. She thought it was time to
check up on them. In case they started cutting bits out.’

When Karen came back to the foyer Christopher
confirmed with her that they mustn’t let anyone leave. ‘We’ll give you a shout
when it’s all clear,’ she promised. ‘We don’t want anybody else out there until
we know they’re well out of the way.’

‘Have you told Mollie?’

‘Yes, we saw her in the library. There are only a
couple of people in there at the moment and they look like they’ll be quite
happy to stay. Thanks for your co-operation.’

‘Any time, Karen,’ said Jock, nodding to her as
she left. She gave him a look. ‘Sorry, I’m sure,’ he called after her. ‘Sergeant
Whitefield, I mean… It’s a sad day when kids you once told off for writing
notes in class get to the point of telling you off,’ he added for Christopher’s
benefit.

After a while some of the mothers and toddlers
came through to the foyer and made such a fuss about going to collect other
children from school that Christopher had to let them out, even at the risk of
getting into trouble with Karen Whitefield. Shortly after that, the young
police officer returned to ask them why they were still there and to tell them
part of the car park was now cordoned off so he hoped they hadn’t left their
cars in that area. Two minutes after that, Amaryllis arrived, covered in
melting snowflakes and seething with fury because Christopher hadn’t called to
tell her something was going on.

‘I was only at the Queen of Scots,’ she said. ‘It
isn’t a million miles from here - I could have got here in minutes.’

‘What were you doing at the Queen of Scots?’ said
Christopher suspiciously. ‘It’s three o’clock in the afternoon.’

‘Nothing,’ she said.

‘What sort of nothing?’

‘For God’s sake, Christopher, you sound like my
mother!’

Christopher didn’t know whether to be annoyed at
being compared to some old woman, or intrigued: Amaryllis had never mentioned
her mother before, and he and Jock had occasionally speculated about whether
she had actually been born of woman in the normal way or cultivated in a
test-tube at GCHQ as part of an ill-fated government experiment to breed spies.

‘I could have caught these people and had them
locked up half an hour ago,’ she said. ‘Now the police will wait until they’re
over the border and then have to fill in all sorts of random paperwork to be
allowed to chase them.’

‘The border?’

‘Between us and the rest of Fife. What did you
think I meant?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Christopher. ‘Sometimes you
operate on an international scale.’

‘Hm,’ she muttered, kicking the desk in front of
her. ‘Not international enough lately.’

He supposed she was missing her overseas trips,
which had certainly dwindled almost to vanishing point in recent months. It
seemed to date back to her last visit to America and her dealings with the CIA afterwards.
Perhaps someone in one of the intelligence services had blocked her from
travelling any more. His heart sank. His instinct told him that Amaryllis would
get bored very quickly if she were trapped in Pitkirtly, and he knew from
experience that a bored Amaryllis was a dangerous Amaryllis.

‘So what were you doing at the Queen of Scots?’
asked Jock.

She shrugged. ‘Waiting for a friend of a friend.
But he didn’t turn up.’

Christopher thought about the people scattered on
the ground after the shooting started, and hoped Amaryllis’s friend’s friend
wasn’t one of them by some dreadful coincidence.

Two scruffy old men came along the corridor
followed by Mollie, the librarian. ‘I’ve locked up in there,’ she said. ‘You
should be getting home, Christopher - you’re looking a bit pale.’

Amaryllis peered at him. ‘I don’t know, he’s no
worse than usual,’ she said.

‘Oh, thanks,’ said Christopher.

She laughed. ‘Come on, let’s get along to the
Queen of Scots before you fade away altogether.’

‘Not much chance of that,’ said Jock McLean. ‘He
looks pretty solid to me.’

‘Don’t you have a bus to catch?’ said Christopher.

BOOK: 5 Frozen in Crime
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