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Authors: Cecilia Peartree

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BOOK: 5 Frozen in Crime
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‘Aren’t you going to interrogate me too?’ said
Jock McLean.

‘Interrogate? Well, I don’t know about that,’ said
Mr Smith. ‘The last time I tried asking you anything you told me a lot of lies.’

‘Lies? That’s a bit harsh,’ said Jock. ‘When I
took so much trouble not to tell lies in my statement.’

‘Well, let’s just say I think you might have been
a slightly unreliable witness.’

‘I’ll tell you one thing,’ said Jock. ‘One of the
men had quite a bad limp.’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Christopher. ‘I’d forgotten that.
I remember thinking he must have fallen over and hurt his leg. It’s easily done
- Maisie Sue’s got a broken wrist at the moment because she slipped on a patch
of ice right outside her house. She was a bit cross that she had to postpone
the completion of the Pitkirtly Quilt Project until after New Year.’

The junior police officer made a note, but
Amaryllis was willing to bet that it didn’t have anything to do with Maisie Sue
or with quilting. Christopher really did ramble sometimes. She contrasted him unfavourably
with Mal in that respect. But of course, there wouldn’t be time on the
battlefield for all this vague indecisive waffle.

After Mr Smith and the junior officer had left,
she decided to leave too. There didn’t seem to be much point in staying on now.
If Christopher and Jock wanted to stay there gossiping about Maisie Sue like a
couple of old women, she would just leave them to it.

She remembered she and Christopher were planning
to spend Christmas Day together. It was too much to hope that he would have a
complete personality transplant before then.

 

Chapter 3 Cleaning up the mess

Detective Chief Inspector Charles Smith, or ‘Charlie’
to his friends, family and Amaryllis, was in a state bordering on despair as he
left the Queen of Scots and walked round to the car with Constable Burnett, his
driver for the afternoon.

A serious crime investigation was all he and his
officers needed, just when he had signed off half of them for the holidays and
overtime was very unlikely to be agreed even if it had been popular with the
officers who were left manning the station over Christmas. What was even more
annoying was that he had put forward this very argument to the Superintendent
only three weeks ago, when decisions about staffing over the holidays were
being made at a higher level, and just before Inspector Forrester had booked a
last-minute holiday in Cuba.

Normally the crime rate fell in a spell of cold
weather, as most of the casual thieves and habitual burglars went into
hibernation. He didn’t blame them: they could easily freeze to death hanging
around outside houses at night waiting for their chance to break in. There were
always one or two, of course, who thought they needed the money to pay for ‘Christmas’.
He could almost see the quotes suspended in the air above them when they spoke.

Charlie Smith thought people’s feelings of
entitlement to ‘Christmas’ were way out of control these days. He blamed the
media and the parents. They were the usual scapegoats for almost everything
that went wrong in society. But to him the search for scapegoats wasn’t nearly
as important as actually catching the criminals and locking them up. If they
knew there was a good chance they’d be locked up, they might think twice about
doing anything bad in the first place. That was what kept him going.

He knew that he and his colleagues were only there
to clean up the mess. Theirs wasn’t a noble quest for truth, or at least not
most of the time. It was a constant struggle to stop these people from
interfering with the activities of the more or less silent majority, who were
usually law-abiding because it was less trouble to abide by society’s rules,
not because of any moral conviction that they had to be ‘good’.

Charlie Smith was a little on the cynical side. He
told himself that he hadn’t been born cynical, but circumstances had thrust
cynicism upon him.

Quite often when something like this happened
around Pitkirtly he found Amaryllis Peebles and Christopher Wilson mixed up in
it somehow, and this case was no exception. But even with his previous
experience of them, he found it hard to believe either of them, even Amaryllis,
would take part in an armed robbery, and particularly one which left wounded
people scattered around randomly in an icy car park. In this case he was
worried rather than irritated by their involvement. Despite his reassuring
words to Christopher, he thought that if the robber imagined the man could identify
him, then Christopher could well be in danger. On the other hand, it seemed
fairly likely that the robbery had been committed not by local mobsters - who
had become very thin on the ground anyway in the aftermath of the Petrelli case
- but by a gang from outside, perhaps even from Edinburgh or Glasgow. So they
could be long gone by now and with no intention of ever coming back.

‘But why choose Pitkirtly?’ he mused aloud as they
got in the car. ‘The pickings here won’t be that great compared to somewhere in
Edinburgh. Or even Dunfermline.’

‘Local connection, sir?’ said the younger officer,
skidding slightly as he pulled away on the seafront road.

‘Hmm,’ said Charlie Smith. ‘I thought we’d seen
off most of the local lot. Unless,’ he added, having had an unwelcome idea, ‘it’s
a new lot in town. Just starting up. Inexperienced, so more likely to shoot
without thinking it through. Or maybe Liam Johnstone’s gone feral.’

‘Could be nasty,’ said the young officer,
increasing the windscreen-wiper speed to try and clear the thickening snow.

‘It already is nasty, Constable Burnett.’

Charlie tucked his chin down into his scarf and
mused on this all the way back to the police station. Someone had built a
snowman in the car park. Well, not actually a snowman. It was evidently meant
to be a pig. Very funny, I must say, he reflected, blaming the parents yet
again.

‘Do you like the pig?’ said the desk sergeant,
grinning, as they went into the building. ‘Took me half the morning to get the
head looking right.’

‘I don’t think it’s that funny,’ said Charlie. ‘Any
more news in?’

‘They would have called you, sir,’ said the desk
sergeant. ‘Even if you didn’t have your mobile on, they would have tried the
radio.’

‘Sergeant Whitefield back?’

‘Not yet, sir.’

Charlie sensed the sergeant wanted to say
something else.

‘What is it?’

‘Nothing, sir. Well, there is something.’

‘For God’s sake, I’m not that frightening!’ said
Charlie, raising his voice. Constable Burnett took a step back away from him,
and the desk sergeant winced. ‘Just tell me,’ he added in a subdued tone.

‘There’s more snow forecast, sir. A blizzard. We
could get power lines coming down, and we’ll definitely have roads blocked by
morning. One or two of us were wondering - but I can see this isn’t a good time
-’

‘What are you talking about, Sergeant McDonald?’

‘Should we get in some extra food in case we get
stuck here over Christmas? A turkey, trimmings, sprouts, Christmas pudding?’

‘Only if we can microwave it all, Sergeant. I
doubt very much if any of us will have time to stand over a hot cooker on
Christmas morning peeling sprouts.  Even if the cooker in the kitchen would
cope with it all, which I doubt. I’ve been asking for a new one for about
eighteen months. It’s a wonder the gas board haven’t condemned that one.’

‘And another thing.’ Charlie Smith was on a roll
now. ‘We’ve got our hands full already with this serious incident in town, and
the roads are like ice-rinks. We’ll have a spate of RTAs tonight and then we’ll
have to spend most of the next few days looking for damn-fool drivers who think
their journeys are essential and then get stuck in drifts all up and down the
main road. If we don’t have to get a search and rescue helicopter in I’ll be
very surprised.’

Constable Burnett muttered something about looking
on the bright side, but Charlie decided to ignore it. He did feel better, at
least temporarily, after his rant, but he was sorry to see that Sergeant
McDonald had now gone into a huff and was banging away on the computer keyboard
as if trying to batter it into submission. It didn’t do to annoy the desk
sergeant. But honestly! Turkey and all the trimmings!

After sitting at his desk reviewing the statements
collected so far about the robbery, and having taken some related phone calls,
he decided he would have to go out again to have a word with the jeweller. It
was thoroughly unpleasant having to put on his wet parka and the heavy shoes he
had taken off and placed under the radiator in the hope of drying out the
insides a bit. He didn’t like having to drag Constable Burnett out again
either, but he couldn’t go on his own.

An hour later, staggering into the station again
from the driving snow, weighed down with shopping bags and followed by a
bemused Constable Burnett, he wondered if he had over-reacted. The sergeant
glanced at him and said, ‘You got some sprouts after all, did you - sir?’

‘Frozen ones,’ said Charlie. ‘‘Nobody’s going to
be peeling sprouts on my watch. Life’s too short.’

Sergeant McDonald abandoned his post and came
through to the kitchen to see Charlie putting the food away. It only just
fitted into the fridge. But evidently his efforts weren’t unappreciated, for
the sergeant said, ‘Cup of tea, sir?’

‘I could murder a mug of scotch,’ muttered the
chief inspector. ‘But I suppose it’ll have to be tea.’

‘There’s some tablet,’ said the sergeant. ‘Jemima
Stevenson tried to bribe me with it.’

‘Did she indeed? And isn’t she Mrs Douglas now?’

‘Right enough, so she is.’

They were leaning on the reception desk, drinking
tea and eating tablet when Karen Whitefield came back with a junior officer.

‘Hmph! It’s all right for some!’ she said,
stamping her feet on the door-mat. Huge slices of compacted snow flew across
the floor.

‘Here! I’d just got that cleaned up!’ said
Sergeant McDonald. ‘It’s a health and safety hazard when it gets slippy, you
know.’

‘Our whole job is a health and safety hazard,’
murmured Karen, pushing back the hood of her parka.

‘Have a cup of tea,’ said the sergeant.

‘How are you getting on?’ said Charlie.

‘No sign of them,’ said Karen. ‘We think they may
have been parked in that road behind the Cultural Centre. There were tyre marks
from a Land Rover or something. They’ll be covered up now.’ She accepted a cup
of tea. She peered at the accompanying tablet suspiciously. ‘Whose is that?’

‘Jemima Stevenson - now Mrs Douglas,’ said the
sergeant. ‘Christmas treat for the boys.’

‘OK, then.’ Karen took a piece. ‘Have you spoken
to the jeweller again?’ she asked Charlie.

‘Yes. He says they made him open the safe and they
took everything out of it. He’s making a list.’

‘Nothing else?’

‘Apparently not…’ Charlie slumped against the desk
again. ‘Makes me wonder what was in that safe that made it worth taking a gun
along.’

‘Guess we’ll find out when we get the list,’ said
Karen. ‘Is there any news on the casualties?’

‘Two on their way to Edinburgh - if the bridge is
open. Others being treated locally.’

‘What about interviewing witnesses? We’ve got a
list.’ She gestured to the constable beside her. He held out his notebook.

Charlie sighed heavily. ‘There’ll be hundreds of
them. We’re never going to manage to get round them all this side of Christmas.’

‘We’ll never get help from anywhere else either,’
said Karen helplessly. ‘Not with the weather…’

‘We’re all doomed,’ said the desk sergeant,
shaking his head.

‘We’ve taken all the preliminary statements,
though,’ said the young constable, possibly trying to cheer everyone up.
Charlie stared at him critically. He was very young - the kind of officer who
made people go on about policemen getting younger - and had a cherubic pink
face and blue eyes. It seemed a shame he had to be the only one who remained
positive in this situation.

Charlie stood up straight again, squaring his
shoulders. It was up to him to take charge and start motivating his tired
subordinates, although he knew when they had volunteered to work over Christmas
they hadn’t expected anything like this. That was the trouble with crime. It
always happened at the most inconvenient moments. Of course, in many cases
criminals did this deliberately and took advantage of the inconvenience of the
moments, such as the chaos caused by Christmas shoppers.

If only they were more considerate…

He coughed.

‘We’ll start the interviews tomorrow. We’ll get as
many as we can to come here. Karen, you make a rota just now and start phoning
them. Don’t stay on late though. We haven’t got enough in the overtime budget.’
He knew she would be glad of some time at her desk before setting off homewards
in the cold. ‘Keith, you can fetch them in if they can’t make it under their
own steam,’ he said to Constable Burnett. ‘Liaise with Karen. I’ll go through
the jeweller’s list when we have it. Bruce, maybe you can give me a hand
tomorrow with that if we don’t get too many other customers.’

‘There’s no knowing about that,’ said Sergeant
McDonald darkly. ‘Christmas seems to bring out the worst in some people.’

‘Only one more shopping day to go,’ said Charlie. ‘And
can somebody find out if Liam Johnstone’s in town?’

Chapter 4 One shopping day

In some ways Christopher was glad Christmas Eve
fell on a Saturday this year. It gave him the chance to do his shopping in the
time-honoured male way, rushing around town a couple of hours before everything
closed, spending too much money and buying extra, unsuitable presents for
people. He was also glad Caroline and the kids weren’t going to attempt the
journey over from Edinburgh before Christmas, although he had promised to go
over to see them between Christmas and New Year if the weather improved. It was
more fun for the kids spending the festive season at home, where they could
chill out and play computer games all day if they wanted, and eat what they
liked, without having to be nice to their boring old uncle. Caroline had made
friends with another single parent down the road and the two families were
going to share Christmas dinner. He hadn’t heard much about this friend and
didn’t even know whether it was a man or a woman. Either would be fine, if it
meant Caroline wasn’t completely dependent on him for adult company. He and his
sister hadn’t always got on well together, although in the past six months or
so they had arrived at some sort of an adult relationship with each other.

By mid-afternoon, when it was starting to get
dark, he had almost finished his shopping - he and Amaryllis were to spend
Christmas Day with Jemima and Dave, so he didn’t need to buy much in the way of
festive food. He was more or less happy with the presents he had bought: as he
got older, he was more easily satisfied on that score, considering his job done
if he had actually got something to give each of the people who were likely to
expect a gift from him.

Jan in the wool shop had advised him to get beads
and some of the little twiddly things she sold for making jewellery. Apparently
Jemima had recently taken up creating necklaces for unsuspecting friends. He
wondered if Amaryllis was due to be the lucky recipient of one. He was tempted
by a children’s knitting kit as a joke present for Amaryllis, who had been
trying to learn to knit for some time though with very little success, but he
decided he didn’t want to risk annoying her on Christmas Day. She had been
moody for the past few weeks, but he wasn’t sure why. He wondered if it was
restlessness. It was quite a while since she had been away on one of her
mysterious missions, and he had suspected her of losing her nerve slightly, but
of course he would never have dared to suggest this even as a theoretical
possibility.

He trekked through the snow to the Queen of Scots
to see if she was there. The blizzard of the day before had left the whole town
under a layer of fresh snow so thick that it could hardly be called a blanket
any more - it was either a duvet or a bundle of loft insulation, he decided as
he trudged along on the road, which was slightly less impassable than the
pavement, but freezing over fast in the rapidly plummeting temperatures around
dusk. He hoped Dave and Jock had got up to the cattery all right this morning.
The main roads at least should have been cleared and gritted. Maybe he should
give Jemima a ring and see if Dave was back yet. He took out his mobile phone
but the battery was dead. Even giving it a good shake didn’t revive it, and
then he dropped it in a clump of snow and had to dry it off with some new
thermal socks he had been planning to give Dave because the bottle of whisky he
had bought weeks ago suddenly didn’t seem exciting enough.

The Queen of Scots was unnaturally quiet. The
landlord stood morosely behind the bar, polishing glasses.

‘Marie Celeste, or what?’ he said.

‘Has Amaryllis been in?’

‘Haven’t seen her. So she probably hasn’t - she wouldn’t
exactly be able to hide in the milling throng.’

It was unusual for the landlord to be so
talkative. He must be desperate. Just to keep him company, Christopher ordered
a pint of Old Pictish Brew and sat at the bar instead of going to the usual table.

‘Do you know what the main roads are like?’ he
asked, making conversation.

‘Bad,’ said the landlord. ‘The Forth Road Bridge
is closed. The trains have stopped running. You aren’t going anywhere for
Christmas.’

‘No, I’m not, but how did you know?’

‘Neither is anybody else. Going anywhere.’

Suddenly Christopher wondered whether the landlord
had anywhere to go, or anyone to spend the festive season with. Of course he
would be occupied in the pub a lot of the time, but did he have any existence
outside it?

He had opened his mouth with the intention of
asking some personal question or other that he knew he would at some later
stage regret asking, when the phone rang at the end of the bar. The landlord
answered it. He listened for a moment and then said to Christopher, ‘It’s for
you.’

‘For me?’

‘You’re Christopher Wilson, aren’t you?’

‘Yes but -’

‘Here you go.’

Christopher, still mildly surprised, put down his
pint glass, walked along to the end of the bar and accepted the receiver from
the landlord.

‘You’re there. Good,’ said Amaryllis.

‘How did you know?’

‘Just a wild guess. It was either the Queen of
Scots or Jan’s wool shop. That’s where I saw you last.’

‘Have you been following me?’

‘No. I just happened to be in the High Street
getting last-minute socks for Dave, and I saw you.’

‘I got last-minute socks for Dave too!’ Then
Christopher remembered what had happened to the socks, and fell silent.

‘I’m phoning about Dave, actually,’ said
Amaryllis. ‘And why don’t you have your mobile on? I thought we talked about
that before and you agreed it was pointless having a mobile if you didn’t
charge it up and keep it switched on.’

‘Sorry. What’s happened? Is Dave all right?’

‘Promise not to panic?’

‘For goodness’ sake, just tell me what’s wrong.
Have they had an accident?’

‘They got up to the cattery all right. Jock’s
there now, with Rosie.’

‘And?’

‘Jemima phoned me and I’m at her house now. Dave
hasn’t got back yet.’

‘OK,’ said Christopher, trying not to sound as if
he was panicking, but actually feeling as if he had been hit in the stomach by
a football. ‘What time did he leave Rosie’s?’

‘They went up about ten o’clock this morning. They
got there at twelve and then the weather started to close in again so Dave
turned round and started to come straight back.’

‘Idiot! He should have stayed up there!’

‘But he didn’t want to disappoint Jemima,’ said
Amaryllis. ‘It’s their first Christmas together.’

‘No, it isn’t,’ said Christopher, knowing he was
only quibbling to avoid having to think this through. ‘They were together last
year - and maybe the year before too.’

‘The first one since they were married, though. It
means a lot to Jemima.’

‘Yes, I know… So he’s been on the road for - what,
four hours?’

‘About that.’

There was a pause. Christopher couldn’t think of
anything he could say or do that would help in any way. Why had she even
bothered ringing him? He was such a waste of space.

‘Have you called the police?’ he asked at last.

‘They said it could easily take him that long to
get down from the moors, with the roads the way they are, even if nothing went
wrong. They said they can’t go and scour the area for him because they don’t
have the man-power. If he was out overnight then -’

Amaryllis stopped in mid-sentence, her voice
trembling slightly. He couldn’t remember her ever sounding so upset before, not
even when the village hall burned down.

‘If he was out overnight, it would be a different
story. They’d start a search in the morning.’

‘In the morning?’ said Christopher incredulously.

‘They said he shouldn’t have gone out in the first
place: there were lots of severe weather warnings in place.’

‘Severe weather warnings? Since when did Dave pay
any attention to those? He thinks he’s indestructible, that’s his problem!’

There was a pause at the other end of the line,
and Christopher heard someone else speaking faintly in the background, then
Amaryllis spoke again.

‘Jemima says don’t be cross with Dave. He was only
trying to help everybody.’

‘I’d better come up to Jemima’s,’ said
Christopher. ‘Then we can try and work something out. Does Dave have a mobile
with him?’

‘He’s left it on the kitchen table. Ring any
bells?’

Christopher finished the call rather abruptly - he
didn’t like to be reminded of his failure to get to grips with mobile
technology - and decided reluctantly that he would have to abandon the pint of
Old Pictish Brew that he had barely started.

‘Trouble?’ said the landlord casually.

‘Looks as if Dave may have got himself stranded,’
said Christopher, trying to match the other man’s untroubled demeanour.

‘That’s bad,’ said the landlord. ‘I wouldn’t fancy
being out there in this.’

‘No, neither would I,’ said Christopher. ‘But it
might come to that.’

‘Well, let me know if you need transport,’ said
the landlord unexpectedly. ‘I’ve got my Range Rover round the back there with
chains on the tyres and snow-shoes in the back - but I’m not going anywhere in
it for a day or two.’

‘Thanks - we might take you up on that.’

Christopher found his eyes were a bit wet as he
stepped out into the cold again - of course, it was only the sudden change in
temperature that did that. Not that he was at all touched by the landlord’s
offer.

 

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