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Authors: Stephen Coill

A Deviant Breed

BOOK: A Deviant Breed
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‘A DEVIANT BREED’

 

(First in the DCI Alec Dunbar series)

 

By Stephen Coill

1

It was their most significant find to date and would prove to be the very last thing Professor Shelagh Geary needed – a near pristine human skull together with the first three cervical vertebrae.  Particularly interesting given that the other human skeletal remains they had uncovered prior to that had all been missing their heads.  So this, their first skull, had caused quite a stir around the site.

Peter ‘Plug’ Nairn was far from being Professor Geary’s most diligent student, but for once he was being uncharacteristically meticulous.  He painstakingly tweaked the soil from around his find with the point of his trowel before deftly swopping tools and teasing a few grains at a time away from the skull’s dome with his brush.

‘Christ Almighty, Plug!’ she snapped impatiently. ‘Integrity’s good.  Just cup the forehead boss, get the flat of your blade under it and lift the bloody thing.’

‘Cannae do reet – for doin’ reet,’ he grumbled sarcastically as he complied with her instruction.  Finally Plug lifted his prize, rested it in his palm and raised it triumphantly. 

Geary’s experienced eye immediately homed in on the teeth of the upper jaw which, ironically, looked in better condition than Plug’s.

‘Is that what I think it is?’ she asked plaintively as she stooped to take it from him.  Dirt was gently scraped from the offending tooth with a precision tool before examining it through a magnifying glass strung around her neck. ‘
Bollocks!’
Geary hesitated, considered and instantly dismissed reburying it. ‘Did you do it by the numbers, Plug – vertebrae and all?’

‘Aye, I was –
till –’
He eyed her accusingly.

‘Leave the vertebrae in situ,’ adding with a heavy sigh. ‘Why here? Why now?’

‘Just dig where I’m told te,’ he grunted, scratching at his shag pile of short, grubby dreadlocks. 

‘No I didn’t mean – oh hell, what does it matter now?  Put it back, step out and cover the trench.’ She passed it back to him. ‘Seventeenth century my arse.’

‘What does it mean, Prof?’ he asked, replacing the skull precisely as it was found.

‘It means – our dig’s just become a potential crime scene,’ she answered before reeling away and bellowing an expletive
so loudly the rest of her team popped up from various trenches dotted around the extensive archaeological site like rabbits around a warren.

***

Detective Superintendent Terry Watt poked his head around the door, grinned and wafted a report at Alec Dunbar.

‘Time to get back in the saddle, pal.’

The wary Detective Chief Inspector eyed him from around his computer monitor.  A minor assault or shoplifter could have tempted him away from the chore Terry Watt had lumbered him with, but he did not want to appear too eager.

‘Officially,
sir
, I’m still on light duties.’

‘Light duties are for lightweights, Alec.’

‘And I’ve not quite finished this report on the proposed –’


Ach!
The Minister’ll be more interested in what it’ll cost than how it works.’

‘What have you got?’ Dunbar asked, curiosity expertly concealed behind a well-practised mask of impassivity.

Detective Superintendent Watt flicked through the Rural Policing Team sergeant’s report as his subordinate waited eagerly but patiently.

‘A strange one, Alec, and by strange I mean weird.  E-Bee-G-Bee and Laughing Boy are
en route.
’  Typically, he was not shy of using Eugene Grant’s least favourite nickname, but woe-betide anyone Terry Watt overheard referring to him as, Tell-ye-Watt.

‘The locals have the scene locked down but it’s remote.  Dinnae think you’ll be troubled by rubber-neckers.’

‘How weird?’

‘An archaeological dig – a big one by the sound o’ it.  A spot called Braur Glen or Obag’s Holm depending on whether you’re reading an OS map or some local history buff’s blog.  Eugene’ll be on the blower soon bitching about contamination issues. You watch.’

With rank comes superiority, be it real or imagined, and in some that breeds arrogance.  Terry Watt was in the habit of telling people only as much as he felt they needed to know.  Or he would just skip over details he perceived as trivial or that he had simply failed to appreciate.  Armed with that knowledge, Dunbar fixed him quizzically and waited.


Ach
, ye know the kind o’ thing,’ Watt whined, ‘spooky local myth, lost in the mists of time, shite.  Up in the Lammermuirs somewhere.  Like I said, remote, beyond the back of naewhere.  You’ll need your wellies an’ a compass by the look o’ it.’

It was sounding better and better to the bored DCI but that was about as good as being briefed by Terry Watt got.  He was not so much arrogant as supercilious but even that was a front.  Behind his confident facade lurked sloth and incompetence.  How he had reached the rank of Superintendent remained a mystery to many who served under him.  The rumour-mill favoured Masonic influence. Dunbar suspected sheer dumb luck. Trying not to betray his delight at the prospect of an investigation into anything with even the faintest whiff of villainy, Dunbar held out his hand.

‘A regular seventeenth century charnel house of a site according to a –’ Watt scanned the report again. ‘Professor Shelagh Geary and that history buff I mentioned, erm, Archibald Fraser English.  He discovered the site and called the archaeologists in.’ Dunbar teased the report from Watt’s fingers.  ‘Except,’ Watt blurted, hesitating for effect, ‘they’ve dug up a skull.  No’ just any old skull, one that’s had dental work.  Fairly recent dental work and by that I mean in the past thirty years or so – pending the forensic pathologist’s report.’

‘Who?’

‘Erm, one o’ their people, foreign sounding, a Professor sun-kissed, half-pissed or –’

‘Holmquist, the forensic anthropologist?’ Dunbar offered. Watt shrugged then nodded. ‘As seen on TV?’ Dunbar added, only to be met with a blank stare.

‘If you say so. I told her we’d need a second opinion from a Home Office approved forensic pathologist of course –
and
for her, Professor Geary that is, to pop in and brief you and your team when you’ve pulled one together.’ He grinned mischievously, ‘
So!
Congratulations, Alec, you are now officially the Senior Investigating Officer on the Braur Glen enquiry.’

‘Why’s she briefing us and not Holmquist? What can she tell us about our skull?’

‘Thought it might help.  You’re the SIO, Alec, you decide.’

Dunbar could not see how.  All the archaeologist had done was dig it up. ‘This local guy sounds more like the guy I should be talking to,’ he said, thinking out loud as he read on.

‘Aye, well I took it for granted you’d be havin’ a crack with him,’ Watt replied.

***

Who would have thought it?  Archie English had never imagined that his hobby might one day make him famous, well at least at a local level, maybe even nationally if the Scottish press and TV ever got their fingers out.  All that would change, especially so, should they definitively identify any of the skeletal remains as being those of Morag Inglis herself.  Imagine that, the unholy grail, Obag’s actual bones.  The one thing he could be certain of was that his quest would be discussed, written about and studied in academic circles for years to come.  Who was it said: “the search for that sinner’s final resting place would do nought but reap further iniquities.”  Oh yes, that would be his grandfather. Archie chortled at the memory of the pious old man’s admonishment. Well, if success is a sin, it seemed that the intrusions fame brings shall be the price he will pay, and he could live with that.

Strange but his website had not kindled the kind of interest he had hoped it would, generating at best limited enthusiasm for his forum, The Debatable Society, of which he had declared himself Life President had sadly proved something of a damp squib despite the attentions of a couple of anonymous but inquisitive stalwarts.  He should not complain.  It was one of those apparently keen but curiously incognito bloggers that had prompted him to take another look at a rather unpromising glen on the south facing reaches of the Lammermuir Hills, a location that he
and others
, had previously dismissed. Of course, that was one detail he would not be going public with, having dismissed it as a pin-in-a-map piece of beginner’s luck.

***

Undisturbed for countless years Braur Glen provided shelter and decent grazing for deer and fell sheep alike.  So far off the beaten track was it, that only local poachers, shepherds and the keenest of ramblers ever made its acquaintance. Yet it was there, nestled in the deep cleft that shaped the glen where he made a crucial discovery – the defining relic, a button bearing the distinctive crest of Morag’s mortal enemies – the Humes.

Spurred on by that find Archie had clambered breathlessly to the top of that imposing ridge that shielded the glen from the harshest winds to explore an ancient, lichen frosted copse.  It was there that he made yet another significant discovery – the overgrown ruins of a building with the unmistakable footprint of what had once been a formidable pele tower.  Finally it seemed that he had pinpointed the location of the legendary Obag’s Holm.

His keenest online follower seemed surprisingly underwhelmed when he updated the website about his find.  Perhaps the blogger had expected a share in long lost buried treasure.  Archaeology, and in particular amateur archaeology, was awash with fortune hunters.  Or yet another armchair ex-pat history buff eager to ‘
reconnect
’ with their roots but not so much that they are willing to get off their arses.  He knew their kind of old.  That said; he preferred the internet-only-Scots to the other kind.  They swarm from coaches onto Edinburgh Castle’s esplanade, Americans, Canadians and Antipodeans, all having paid homage at St Andrews first of course; loud in dress and voice; living, breathing, comic postcard caricatures.    In a country awash with history, too the majority of them, that silly ‘Royal and Ancient’ game was Scotland’s sole raison d’être.

And do these faux Celts ever venture into the Border Region?  Only in transit from one of England’s many tourist traps to Scotland’s more celebrated attractions and landmarks but never into his neck of the woods.  Not where Scotland’s Border history is etched into the very landscape.  The place where lawless reiver mercenaries had held sway for over three centuries and decided the outcome of many a battle between Scots and English claimants to the thrones of both nations.

That was the stuff of Scottish history that stirred Archie English’s blood.  Not Sir Walter Scott’s romanticised vision of his homeland or worse Hollywood’s.  If he saw one more Scot defaming the memory of William Wallace by wearing blue face paint he would shove the man’s replica broadsword where Mel Gibson and his similarly daubed cast and extras invited Longshanks’s arrows.

***

Hoping Dunbar was sufficiently distracted by the sergeant’s report, Watt slipped another detail into his briefing in a mumbled, matter-of-fact way.

‘Oh aye, and Briony Tyler’s gonna be your 2i/c.’ 

If he had thought it would pass unnoticed, he was wrong.  Dunbar remained fixed on the report but made no attempt to mask his displeasure at the appointment of DI Tyler as his second-in-command.

‘She’s on the team sheet, get over it – and dinnae get too ambitious about manpower, the piggy bank’s all but empty since that last round o’ cuts,’ Watt blurted defensively.

Having reached the end of the rural beat sergeant’s report, Dunbar finally met his boss’s expectant gaze.

‘Away mon, you cannae kid me.  Dinnae pretend you’re not chompin’ at the bit as ye read that report.  Anyway, the fresh air’ll do you good.  You’ve a canny queer pallor,’ he teased, scanning the room. ‘Been under these low energy light bulbs too long, if ye ask me.’

Dunbar could not argue with that but it was hardly out of choice.  A fortieth birthday dinner with his wife in Aberdeen he could not remember.  The day, the night and the best part of the following week were a complete blank.  He hadn’t even been drinking.  Not a drop had passed his lips because he had had to drive his wife’s car back to Edinburgh.

‘With respect,
Sir!
– Briony Tyler?  We’re talking about a wee lass –’

‘Then show her some, mon.’ Watt cut in, adding, ‘you wouldn’t call the Assistant Chief a wee lass would yer?’

Dunbar conceded the point with a nod before continuing, ‘Nae I would not – she isn’t!’  Watt scowled, he was not about to give ground, or discuss the ACC’s girth or weight.  ‘And Briony Tyler is a Detective Inspector by virtue of her secondment to NCIS –
given
not earned.’


Ach!
Semantics, mon,’ Watt grumbled.

‘Very well, a DI whose grasp of homicide investigation –’

‘Unexplained death,’ Watt cut in again, anticipating Dunbar’s objections.

‘– is at best theoretical,’ Dunbar continued, ‘at worst purely hypothetical.’ He let out a sigh and fixed his boss quizzically. ‘C’mon, Terry; buried in the wilderness for God knows how long.  The decapitated skull o’ someone that was in a dentist’s chair less than thirty years ago – I think foul play’s a gimme, don’t you?’ 

BOOK: A Deviant Breed
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