Authors: Cecilia Peartree
Amaryllis was very fond of Jemima and Dave, but she
really didn’t want to spend Christmas with them. She had a feeling of impending
doom even about the few hours on Christmas Day when she and Christopher were
due to go round to Jemima’s house for tea and cake. She spent the morning
wishing she could go down with some acute but not life-threatening illness that
would mean hibernating for a few days and then resuming what passed for her
social life just before the Queen of Scots Hogmanay party. If she and
Christopher were even welcome at the Queen of Scots again after wrecking the
landlord’s Range Rover.
She expressed this last point to Christopher as
they made their way over to Jemima’s.
‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘I’ve let him know the
worst and promised to get it back to him in a reasonable state before the
middle of the week. If the weather doesn’t get any worse, that is. Otherwise I’ve
offered to lend him Dave’s truck if he needs transport.’
‘Very organised,’ said Amaryllis. She hoped he
didn’t sense any criticism in her tone. It would have been more fun to wind the
landlord up a bit, have a shouting match with him and then produce the Range
Rover at the eleventh hour. She sighed.
‘Still feeling restless?’ he said.
‘Restless isn’t the right word,’ she said,
frowning. ‘Dissatisfied, maybe.’
‘Dissatisfaction’s all right,’ he said. ‘That’s
what makes people do something to improve things.’
‘I suppose so.’
‘You could always use this time to work out what
to do about it,’ he said. ‘Do some brainstorming, mind-mapping, maybe a SWOT
She glanced sideways at him. ‘Have you been on one
of these management training courses again?’
‘Not for a while,’ he said defensively. ‘OK, well,
two weeks ago.’
‘Where would we be if the hobbits had waited to
do a SWOT analysis before they set off on their journey?’ she said.
‘That’s fiction, Amaryllis! Fantasy fiction, at
that. For goodness’ sake don’t try and emulate it.’
‘I know it’s fiction, you idiot! I was joking!’
They stood glaring at each other, and Amaryllis
suddenly realised they had reached Jemima’s doorstep. The door opened and
Jemima looked at them quizzically.
‘Merry Christmas,’ she said.
Of course it was nice and homely being at Jemima
and Dave’s for a few hours, sitting by a coal fire, eating great big chunks of
home-made cake and drinking several too many cups of tea. Jemima offered sherry
instead at one point, but they all turned it down in favour of tea, having
sampled Jemima’s sherry before. The wind was getting up again and the lights
kept flickering. Dave wanted to watch something on television, but the picture
was terrible, and when Jemima tried the phone it wasn’t working at all.
‘I hear you want to go on an epic quest,’ said
Jemima to Amaryllis.
‘Where on earth did you get that idea?’ said
Amaryllis. ‘I might go somewhere exciting for a holiday. Thailand - Indonesia -
‘Haven’t you been to all these places before?’
‘That was work,’ said Amaryllis. ‘It was quite
Yes, she thought, different in the sense that she
had infiltrated a drugs ring that was helping to fund terrorism in Indonesia,
she had followed a CIA agent into North Korea to see if he would lead her to
the head of the secret government propaganda organisation, and she had waited
in Thailand for the signal that would send her to rendezvous with a double
agent in Beijing.
‘Would you not find it boring just having a holiday
though?’ said Dave.
‘That’s a good question,’ said Amaryllis. ‘Maybe I
should be looking at some sort of extreme sport.’
She saw Christopher’s expression of panic, and
smiled to herself. But winding him up wasn’t really enough to amuse her for the
whole day. She decided to browse online for extreme sporting opportunities when
she got home. But somehow, sitting in the apartment on her own with the lights
flickering and the internet only available in short bursts, she lost interest.
She opened the doors to the balcony and stood
there for a while, feeling the freezing wind in her face and admiring the array
of icicles that had formed on the overhang of the roof. One of them in
particular caught her attention: it must have been at least 75 centimetres long
with a diameter of around 10 centimetres. It would make a good weapon in an
emergency, she mused. But hadn’t that idea been used in a famous murder mystery
novel? That was the problem: everything she thought of had either been done
before or wasn’t even necessary. In some ways she wished she had been young
during the war, when she could have joined SOE and parachuted into occupied
France, stolen the Enigma machine and got back in time to help invent the
atomic bomb. Well, possibly not the last part. But she could have done
something that would have made an obvious difference at the time. The things
she had done during her career might have made a difference, but it was usually
quite a small difference that took a while to have any effect.
Was she really trying to think of a way of
achieving some sort of immortality? Or was she just missing the adrenalin rush
of being in danger and finding a way of surviving? In the latter case, extreme
sports would be the answer, but unless she practised a lot and became good
enough to represent the nation in some international event, then the first part
of it wouldn’t work at all. Even if she did win a gold medal at the Olympics,
she knew it would soon be forgotten, and wouldn’t be all that important in the
scheme of things.
She considered Mal’s big charity project. How did
he feel about being a civilian after serving in combat and trekking through the
Arctic under a military umbrella, so to speak? Would the charity thing be
enough to satisfy him?
At last, becoming tired of thinking on a large
scale, her mind wandered back to the jewel robbery in Pitkirtly. It seemed like
a simple enough crime. Get some forensic evidence, fingerprints, DNA, whatever,
and it would more or less solve itself. The police should manage it all right
without her help. She wondered vaguely why Charlie Smith had wanted to speak to
Lord Murray of Pitkirtlyhill. He hadn’t told them anything, of course, but
maybe there was some connection with the robbery, since all the officers
currently on duty were probably involved in the case. Would they be at work on
Christmas Day? She pictured them all sitting round a small electric heater in
the police canteen after a sketchy cold lunch of turkey sandwiches washed down
by cranberry juice in lieu of wine. For the first time in her life she felt
sorry for the police. They got all the hard work to do without the adrenalin or
the trips to far-flung places she and others like her had experienced.
Amaryllis suddenly realised that she was still
standing on the balcony and her feet were extremely cold. Knowing the weather
was too bad even for her to go for one of her moonlight treks, she had taken
off her Goretex walking shoes and big woolly socks when she got home. Bad
enough having to wear them to avoid frostbite when she went out; there was no
need to let her feet get all sticky in them in the flat, where she liked to
prowl around in bare feet. She closed the doors, regretfully, and switched on a
small electric heater.
Almost as if it had just been waiting for her to
need electricity, the power supply chose that moment to give out altogether. It
looked as though the latest wave of gales had finally brought the lines down.
She remembered reading stories the previous winter about people waiting for
weeks to get their power re-connected. Now she would find out what it was like.
This really wasn’t the kind of epic she wanted to be involved in. The quest for
power, although it might make a good title for a fantasy epic novel or even a
whole trilogy, wasn’t going to be much fun to live through.
She wrapped her cold feet in a towel, fumbling in
the dark to find one, put on the fleecy pyjamas she had been hoarding since she
decided to come and live on the east coast of Scotland, added a jumper over
them and went to bed.
About half an hour later, still in the dark, she
got out of bed again and found her way to the wardrobe. She needed an extra
She shone her torch on to the clothes rail,
looking for the old towelling robe she usually kept for visitors, but something
else caught her eye, and she pulled it out and studied it thoughtfully. It was
the pink bullet-proof vest someone had once given her. She turned it over so
that she could see the back, although she already knew very well what the
lettering said: Danger, PI at work.
Maybe the police would need her help yet again
before long. Maybe she should try and find real paying clients, and turn this
game into a business. It wouldn’t be world-shaking, but it would be something
useful and enjoyable for her to do, in the absence of a wizard coming by with
some bizarre story about a ring.
She put on the vest over everything else, found
some long socks in a drawer and got back into bed. She couldn’t make a mind map
by torchlight, but at least she could set her brain to work on it so that she
would be ready to write it all down in the morning.
Adding the vest made all the difference.
Christopher was worried enough to call round at
Amaryllis’s apartment at eight on Boxing Day. It would have been still pitch
dark at that time, except that the snow made seem it a bit lighter. He wasn’t
sure of the scientific explanation for this but the extra light helped if you
were getting up and going out while the rest of the world slept.
He trudged through the snow. At least the gales
had died down again. It had been annoying having to go to bed early because
there was nothing to do once the electricity went off, and he was pleased to
find the power supply suddenly working again today. It must have been some
temporary blip, not the lines coming down as he had imagined. He remembered
reading about people having to wait days or even weeks to have their power
restored. What did they do without the ability to boil a kettle and make a cup
The blinds were up at Amaryllis’s sitting-room
windows, which led to the balcony, and when he rang the bell downstairs she
answered almost at once, sounding bright and breezy. Whatever had been
bothering her on Christmas Day, she must have got over it very fast. He even
felt a tiny trace of resentment about having got up so early to rush round and
‘Good that we’ve got the power back,’ he said as
she took his coat. Then he glanced round the room, normally a white minimalist
haven with little furniture and no clutter, and his eyes widened.
There were big sheets of paper all over the floor,
the glass-topped table, the big white sofa. They were covered in diagrams and
lists drawn with marker pens in various colours. On the sofa some
multi-coloured knitting formed a second layer of chaos, flung down as if
He didn’t intend to pry into whatever she had been
writing, but he caught sight of his own name halfway down one of the sheets. He
glanced up to the top and saw the word ‘Weaknesses’ written there in big
letters. He wasn’t sure what to make of this.
‘It’s a SWOT analysis,’ she said.
‘So I’m a weakness, am I’?’
‘Not exactly. I’ve put you down as a strength too.’
She held up another piece of paper. ‘It’s because sometimes when I bounce ideas
off you, you come up with a really helpful point, like Dr Watson - and
sometimes you use delaying tactics to try and stop me following up a clue.’
‘No, I don’t!’
‘You do, if you think it might be dangerous.’
‘Well, maybe. But that could be a strength as
well,’ he argued. In spite of the bickering and the fact that he hadn’t needed
to get up early after all, he was relieved to see her like this. She still
seemed restless, but she had turned the energy from this restlessness into
something that could be useful.
‘Is the knitting part of it?’ he said mildly.
She laughed. ‘Believe it or not, I like to do a
bit of knitting when I’m thinking about things. It helps me to focus.’
He stared at the tangle of wools. ‘But you don’t
actually focus on the knitting.’
‘Don’t make fun of it - you might end up with a
woolly hat next Christmas. Or a pair of socks. I haven’t worked out which it is
‘But isn’t there a pattern?’
She laughed, as if patterns were for wimps. ‘The
shape develops organically from the wool. Like a sculpture emerging from a piece
‘So what’s all this about anyway?’
She let the ‘Strengths’ list flop back to the
ground, and picked up another piece of paper from the table. The diagrams on it
crawled around all over the place, and the text straggled round them like ivy
round an old window-frame.
‘It’s a mind-map.’
Christopher examined the drawing. He wasn’t sure
what it said about the state of Amaryllis’s mind. It would have provided fuel
for all sorts of psychological research projects.
‘I was thinking about your epic quest,’ he said,
at a loss for a positive comment about the mind-map.
‘Don’t worry, I’ve scaled back my ambitions a bit,
you’ll be pleased to hear.’
‘Yes, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less
important,’ said Christopher. ‘I was thinking of this thing about the butterfly
‘The butterfly that flaps its wings and brings the
world to an end?’
‘Yes, sort of. The fact that even if you think of
what you’re doing to help people here as small and insignificant, it could
affect the whole course of human history.’
‘Yes, whatever. So what do you think? Will it be a
‘I don’t know.’ Christopher was slightly baffled,
not unusually. ‘What sort of business is it?’
‘My PI business, of course. So much crime has
happened around here, I think the police need some competition to spur them
into solving it.’
‘I thought you usually provided that already. Does
this have something to do with the bullet-proof vest Tricia Laidlaw gave you?’
‘Yes – I found it at the back of the wardrobe.
When the electricity went off,’ she said, as if it explained everything. ‘I’m
going to start with the robbery.’
‘But don’t you need a client to be able to call it
a business?’ he said. ‘Otherwise it’s just you nosing around as you always do.’
She gave him a look.
‘That’s why you’re on the Weaknesses list,
Christopher.’ She turned over the Opportunities sheet which, he noticed, didn’t
have his name on it anywhere, and started to write on the back. ‘Now that you’re
here, I might as well ask you about what the robbery looked like from where you
‘At my office window,’ he said. ‘Are you just
going to ask people all the things the police have already asked them?’
‘Probably, but I’ll listen to the answers a bit
more thoroughly. So, tell me, Mr Wilson, what exactly did you see?’
He sighed, sat down at the glass-topped table
since there wasn’t a more comfortable space available anywhere, and said, ‘Will
I get a cup of coffee if I tell you?’
She agreed to his terms, and he ran through his
recollection of what he had seen from his office window on Christmas Eve.
Faithful to her methodology, she listened closely. At the end she sat back and
said, ‘What about Jock McLean? I wonder if he saw the same as you.’
‘He didn’t see as much,’ said Christopher. ‘He was
hiding on the floor.’
‘Hmm. I’d better give him a call at the cattery if
I can get through. By the time he gets back he’ll have forgotten all about it.’
‘Can I have a coffee now?’
‘Just one more thing – you were looking out the
window before you heard anything, weren’t you? Can you remember what you saw
‘Some idiots falling over on the ice. An ambulance
coming to pick somebody up. That’s about all. Why?’
‘I was just thinking if the two robbers ran
towards the Cultural Centre as part of their getaway, they might have arrived
from that direction in the first place. Do you know if there’s cctv anywhere
He shook his head. ‘We looked into it but there
were some human rights and privacy issues so we decided against it.’
‘What about strange cars parked in that road behind
the Cultural Centre? Did you notice anything?’
He shrugged, feeling guilty now: he realised he
didn’t really pay much attention to cars in general, but obviously that wasn’t
a very helpful attitude. In fact he didn’t consider himself all that observant
at all. Amaryllis could do with having an assistant who was good at all the
detail. Not that he thought of himself as her assistant, of course. In the
light of his appearance on the ‘Weaknesses’ list he was perhaps more of an
anti-assistant, only nobody had bothered to invent a word for that.
‘A bit like anti-matter,’ he muttered.
‘I think it’s time for coffee,’ she said. He
watched her as she put the kettle on and searched through the cupboards for
food. Her dark red hair was standing on end today, which was a good sign. Now
that he thought about it, her hair had been decidedly limp for the past little
while, although he had imagined it was because she had been wearing a woolly
hat in the extremely cold conditions. Or maybe all her joie de vivre had been
swept away by the freezing north-easterly wind that some said came straight
from the Arctic Circle.
‘Do you think the town’s cut off now?’ she said,
bringing the coffee. ‘Will we run out of fresh food and have to beg tins off
people who’ve stored them since the end of the war?’
‘Jemima probably has some of those,’ said
Christopher. ‘We’d better keep on the right side of her.’
She glanced down at the piece of paper again. ‘Does
anyone know yet whether these robbers actually fired at your office window? Did
Charlie Smith say anything?’
He shivered. Being shot at wasn’t a comfortable
thought, even although he had been standing behind triple-glazing at the time.
‘If they did fire, I wonder why,’ said Amaryllis
thoughtfully. ‘Are you sure they saw you?’
‘One of them was staring straight at me,’ said
Christopher. ‘Maybe he fired because he thought I’d recognised him, and wanted
to make sure I didn’t tell anybody.’
‘Better watch your back if that’s what it was,’
said Amaryllis. He sort of wished she hadn’t said that. He shivered again.
‘But surely they’ll have gone somewhere else by
now?’ he said.
‘Yes, I expect so.’
The expression on her face didn’t give him much
confidence. What if they came after him? They could find out easily enough who
he was, and he couldn’t keep away from the Cultural Centre indefinitely. It
would be child’s play to track him down there. But would they want to return to
the scene of their crime?
‘I wouldn’t worry about it,’ said Amaryllis. ‘There’s
no reason for them to come back - if they got all they wanted the first time.’
‘But how do we know if they did?’
‘We don’t. But we can try and find out what they
did get. Charlie Smith will have a list. We’ll get it all out of him. Custard
‘You’ve been seeing too much of Jemima,’ said
Christopher, accepting a biscuit. ‘It’ll be tablet next,’ he added darkly, ‘and
then where will we be?’