Authors: A. D. Scott
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF
A. D. SCOTT
“Another stunner. . . . Lots of action, lots of atmosphere, and above all, lots of fun.”
A Double Death on the Black Isle
“Readers . . . should enjoy Scott's careful attention to creating characters who convincingly belong to a past era's attitudes and values.”
A Double Death on the Black Isle
is like a visit with an old friend in front of a fireplace on a cold wintry night. It's a place you won't want to leave.”
A Small Death in the Great Glen
is a novel to savor.”
âMalla Nunn, author of
A Beautiful Place to Die
“Once you start reading, you'll find it hard to put down.”
âPeter Robinson on
A Small Death in the Great Glen
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To Glenn McVeigh
en past nine on a mid-September night, everything in the town was tight shut, including the sky. It must have known it was the Sabbath.
The stone staircase leading from Church Street to the suspension bridge was not the man's usual way home. But after a long cold shift in the railway marshaling yards he was weary, and cycling the long way round, across the Black Bridge in the rain, would chill a man to the bone.
Since he was a child, taking the stairs down to the river made him uneasy. It could be the graveyard above, the tombstones rising above eye level. It could be the wall, the ancient remains of the Abbey of the Black Friars. It could be the rumor of a ghostâthe ghost of the Black Lady, but more likely the ghost of a Black Friar in cloak and cassock.
He always told his wife he didn't believe the old storiesâ
old wives' tales,
he called them, but this night, in the dark, in the drizzle, and the lamp above the back porch of another church halfway down the steps was brokenâit was even more eerie than usual.
He hugged one side of the long flight, keeping close to the iron banister that ran down the middle, his bicycle hefted on his left shoulder.
He saw the bundle on the porch step without thinking much. Later, when asked, he recalled an impression of abandoned coal sacksâthe hundredweight size, he said. But for the
hand, lying upturned, reaching out in a gesture of supplication, still warm, unlike that of the angel in the graveyard opposite, he would have hurried on.
The wife waits up till half past nine, he told the police sergeant; one minute late and he would have to warm his supper himself.
He knew it was a body; he'd seen enough of them in the war. He dropped his bike, felt for a pulse, found none, then sprinted up the street to the police station. And no, he told them afterwards; he hadn't lifted the sacking, somehow he couldn't, and no, he hadn't seen anything or anyone. Nothing at all.
He had felt an absence from the bundle of sacks and a presence from the graveyard over the wall, but that was not the kind of thing a man could tell anyone.
He saw a flicker, a movement, something, dancing between tombstones, hiding behind the largest, one so old it was leaning at an angle like a drunk.
It was that, more than the discovery of the woman's body, that made him hare up the street so fast he had to stop outside the police station to clutch his side, a painful stitch stopping him from taking another step.
When he had his breath back, and when he reported what he saw, he didn't mention the ghost. But he never forgot how terrified he had been.
The theft of his bicycle from where he dropped it on the steps beside the body nagged at him for months. The hand, reaching out, haunted him for the rest of his life. And ever after, even though he didn't believe in ghosts, he cycled the long way home.
fter twenty-five years as a journalist, McAllister was used to late nights, so when the doorbell rang at twenty past eleven he was awake, reading, and on his third single-malt whisky of the evening. As he put down his book and rose to answer the door, he felt uneasy. Who would be awake in this Scottish Highland town this late on the Sabbath?
Police Constable Ann McPherson stood on the doorstep. “Mr. McAllister. We've found a woman. She's dead. One of my colleagues thinks she worksâworkedâat the
Â .Â .Â .Â ”
WPC McPherson saw a flash of dread cross McAllister's face. “It's not Joanne.”
Ann McPherson knew McAllister and liked the editor of the
; liked his wit, his intellect, and secretly admired his tall dark brooding elegance. She had also guessed at his fascination with Joanne Ross, a reporter on the
a woman fifteen years younger than his forty-five, a woman whose smile and changeable-as-the-ocean-blue-green eyes and ever curious mind had entered his dreamingâawake and asleep.
“Come in.” Not waiting for an answer, he went straight to his sitting room to pour another dram.
“Who is she?” he asked after he gulped the whisky down.
“That's why I'm here. We need your help to identify her.”
He noted she did not say what had happened and knew this was not good. “I'll get my coat.”
Until now, September had been glorious. A late burst of warmth and color and crystal nights, the glens and mountains orange and red and ochre, the islands in the river that cut the town in half, were decked out in an outburst of beauty that made the heart glad. But this Sunday, winter gave advance notice with a grey dreich-damp cold shroud, covering the town and mountains, spiced up by a steady nor'easterly straight off the North Sea that sent even the seagulls inland. It seemed a fitting day to end in death.
McAllister was grateful that on the short journey across the river, WPC McPherson said nothing.
The car park for the mortuary was at the back of the building and dark except for a single faint light above a door marked “Entrance.” The exit was not marked, but McAllister was aware of the tall robust brick chimney and wondered if it was the exit, or perhaps entrance, to the underworld.
They said no more. Detective Inspector Dunne led the way down a corridor and held open the thick green doors to the high-ceilinged room, where a mortuary attendant was waiting beside a trolley. A rubber sheetâgreen, color-coordinated to match the door and tilesâcovered the figure awaiting McAllister's verdict. He mentally blessed the deities, in which he had little faith, for the three shots of malt he'd had earlier. Or was it four?
He took a breath through his mouth, then nodded.
The light was harsh, making shadows. It highlighted the look of surprise that McAllister fancied he saw on the brow of her clearly dead face. He never understood that epitaph on tombstones, “Only sleeping.”
“Enough,” was all he managed to say, before turning and walking out into the corridor.
“I have to ask you formallyÂ .Â .Â .Â ” DI Dunne came up behind him.
“Can I smoke?” McAllister asked.
“In here.” WPC McPherson indicated a waiting room.
The police officers waited until McAllister filled his lungs, exhaled, before putting the formal question.
“Mr. McAllister, do you recognize the deceased?” the inspector asked in a formal policeman's voice.
“I do. It is, was, Mrs. Smart, business manager at the
. I don't remember her first name.”
As he said this he felt a rush of guilt. This was the woman he had worked beside for a year and a half. This was the woman who made sure the
functioned, the woman who was as essential to the newspaper as the printing press.
“I'm sorry, it's the shock.”