Authors: Cecilia Peartree
Death in a Cold Spring
Copyright Cecilia Peartree 2015
All rights reserved
Chapter 1 Face of Pitkirtly
‘There’s some people at the front door with an art installation,’ said the new cleaner, Maggie Munro, poking her head into Christopher’s office. ‘They say it’s for the Folk Museum.’
‘Art installation? When did I agree to that?’
Maggie came just far enough into the office for him to see her shrugging her shoulders.
‘You’re a bit early tonight, aren’t you?’ said Christopher. He glanced up at the clock.
‘You’re working a wee bit late again, Mr Wilson,’ said Maggie reproachfully. She whisked a mop round from behind her and gave the skirting boards nearest to her a quick swipe. ‘There, that’ll do until Friday.’
Christopher didn’t mention the crumbs that had been on the floor under his desk since the middle of February. Far be it from him to upset the cleaner. He sighed.
Maggie withdrew and he heard her speaking to at least two other people just outside the room.
‘He hasn’t got time to see to it now. You’ll have to come back in the morning.’
At least he wasn’t the only person she rode roughshod over.
‘We need to do it now.’ A young, querulous voice, probably male.
‘There’s a schedule for this, you know.’ A snappy female voice.
That’s all I need, he thought, another snappy female in my life. Although when he reconsidered, he couldn’t actually describe any of the women he knew as snappy. Not now that Deirdre had gone back to wherever she came from.
Christopher sighed again and, against his better judgement, went to see what was going on.
There were two young people carrying a large cardboard box between them. Maggie was leaning on the reception desk, mop resting beside her. When she caught sight of him she took a duster out of the pocket of her apron and pretended to be dusting the desk top and sides.
‘You’ve brought an art installation?’ he said.
‘It’s all in the box,’ said the young man.
‘I don’t think I quite...’
‘Mr Cockburn sent us,’ said the young woman. ‘It’s for the Folk Museum.’
‘Mr Cockburn...’ Christopher tried to conjure up some sort of image of the man’s face, or a distant memory of ever having encountered him. At last, in a little-used corner of his mental filing system, he opened a dusty old safe and – recoiled slightly as he suddenly retrieved the information.
‘Mr Cockburn – the minister?’
He had last spoken to Mr Cockburn at the memorial service Mr Whitmore had insisted on holding for his daughter, Jackie, not long after Christmas. The minister had rambled on a bit while people guzzled refreshments in the church hall afterwards, mainly to fill the gap left by the conspicuous shortness of the service and the lack of people willing to say very much about the girl’s life.
Christopher now recalled that Mr Cockburn had spoken at length about his pet project and had asked for Christopher’s help in what seemed at the time to be a very minor way. He couldn’t exactly remember having agreed to an art installation in the Folk Museum, but maybe the thing, whatever it was, would be small and unobtrusive and could be left in a corner where people could take it or leave it. The box certainly didn’t look all that big.
‘It’s for the Face of Pitkirtly,’ said the young man.
‘Face of Pitkirtly? Is that what it’s called?’
‘That isn’t the name of our artwork,’ said the young woman fiercely. ‘It’s the name of the whole exhibition.’
‘Can we install it now?’ said the young man. ‘Is the Folk Museum along here?’
The two of them began to shuffle along the corridor with the box.
‘Wait a minute!’ Christopher called after them. ‘I’ll have to get the key. Can you just stop and put the box down?’
‘No,’ said the young man, glaring over his shoulder. ‘We can’t put it down just anywhere. You’d better hurry up with the key.’
‘Not so fast, young man!’ said Maggie Munro, following along behind with her mop and duster. Christopher hadn’t noticed before that she walked with a slight list to one side, as if one leg was longer than the other. Or shorter, for that matter. ‘That’s the head of this place you’re talking to. You need to show a bit more respect.’
‘Respect’s got to be earned,’ said the young woman.
Quite right too, thought Christopher, going to fetch a set of keys. None of this kow-towing to authority just because it’s there. Amaryllis would approve of that girl’s attitude.
‘So are there many more things in this exhibition?’ he said as he opened the door to the Folk Museum for them. ‘They’re not all coming here as well, are they?’
‘They’ll be around the town,’ said the young man. He and the girl manoeuvred the box on to the nearest flat surface, which happened to be Maisie Sue’s quilting table.
‘This’ll do,’ said the girl.
Now that they were no longer burdened with the box, Christopher decided it was time for introductions. He held out his hand.
‘I’m Christopher Wilson. Welcome to the Cultural Centre.’
‘Umph,’ said the young man. ‘I’m Craig and this is Sammy.’
Neither of them shook his hand, but they each gave a grudging nod in his direction. He felt as if this was progress of a kind.
‘So what sort of installation is this?’ he enquired.
‘It’s secret,’ said the girl, Sammy. ‘You’ll see it when we’ve finished.’
‘And it’s something to do with the Face of Pitkirtly?’
They both nodded.
‘There’s going to be a lot more in the church hall,’ said Craig, ripping some packing tape off the top of the box. ‘Photographs, and that.’
‘And in the Queen of Scots,’ said Sammy. She frowned at Craig and he stopped what he was doing.
‘And the Bowling Club,’ said Craig.
‘All photographs?’ said Christopher. He began to relax. This wasn’t too bad. He could cope with photographs. And if Charlie Smith had consented to have things displayed in the Queen of Scots...
‘Not really,’ said Sammy. ‘But you’ll have to wait and see.’
They stared at him, and after a few moments he understood that they were willing him to leave.
‘You’ll see it in the morning,’ said Craig. ‘Or maybe not till the exhibition officially opens.’
‘I don’t know if I can let you work on it in here without supervision,’ said Christopher, feeling like some ancient bureaucrat whose limbs were permanently constricted by red tape. ‘I’m not sure the Council rules allow that.’
He knew perfectly well they didn’t, in fact. In the unlikely event that members of the public were permitted in the Cultural Centre after hours, they had to have a member of staff with them all the time, and it all had to be arranged weeks, if not months in advance.
Maggie Munro, who was still hanging about, pretending to mop the floor under the display cases, piped up. ‘I could stay on and see to it.’
‘I don’t think we can afford the overtime at this stage of the financial year,’ said Christopher. He knew he was clutching at straws.
‘Never mind the overtime,’ said Maggie, straightening up with a wince, as if she had over-stretched. ‘I’d like to give these two young people a hand with their project.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Christopher slowly.
‘I could take all the books out of the biography section and give them a good dusting as long as I’m in here,’ offered Maggie.
‘Hmm.’ Christopher knew the biography section gathered more dust than any other shelf in the library. It was because nobody ever borrowed any of the books there, of course, although he had had many a tedious discussion with the head librarian about it, and she had always insisted it was because it was situated too close to the Folk Museum door, and the dust had originated from the mouldy old exhibits in there. ‘That’s a thought. You’d better take this set of keys – I’ve got my own somewhere. Don’t forget to lock up. But don’t stay on too late and don’t overdo it. And call a taxi to take you home afterwards.’
‘I won’t tell anybody that comes snooping round from the Council either,’ Maggie called cheerfully after him. ‘They’ll never find out from me.’
The two young people didn’t bother to thank him for the bravery of his executive decision-making. He tried not to feel resentful about that as he walked off down the corridor.
As luck would have it, Amaryllis was waiting for him just outside the main door.
‘Come on!’ she exclaimed. ‘We’re running late already.’
Christopher hadn’t the slightest idea where they were supposed to be going.
‘What on earth have you been doing in there?’ she asked.
‘There’s some sort of art thing going on,’ he said vaguely. ‘Where are we going?’
‘It’s the hustings.’
That didn’t tell him anything. His bewilderment must have been written large on his face, as he suspected it usually was, for Amaryllis added, ‘You haven’t forgotten I’m standing for the Council, are you?’
‘Of course not! But – hustings?’
‘Not really,’ she said. ‘It’s the Bowling Club. Of course it would be more fun to have an open-air platform where the voters have to cast their votes in person, and there’d be a realistic possibility of a fight breaking out, but in this climate we can’t be too fussy about a venue. The Bowling Club has a good heating system.’
Christopher shivered, in silent acknowledgement that a good heating system was always a blessing on evenings like this when the wind howled round the almost empty car park and a late fall of snow was predicted.
‘How many candidates are there?’ he asked.
‘Seven. But the Independent Council Taxpayers’ Protest candidate has chicken-pox so I think he’s pulled out.’
‘What are you standing as, again? Independent Security Services Mole?’
‘I don’t work for them any more – you know that.’
Amaryllis was surprisingly calm and middle-class in her manner and appearance this evening. He noticed she had tamed her hair somewhat, and she wasn’t even wearing her customary black outfit, but a camel coat that didn’t really suit her all that well. Maybe she had decided black leather would frighten off the voters. However he knew she could always fall back on her personality to do that, if it came to the point. Did she seriously expect to be elected?
‘Do you have policies?’
‘Haven’t you read my leaflet?’ she countered. ‘Stewie said he’d put it through your door.’
‘I’m sure they’re very sensible,’ he said. ‘Stewie? Is he your election agent or something?’
She laughed. ‘No, he’s more of an errand boy.’
Jemima and Dave were already seated in the middle of the front row when Christopher and Amaryllis arrived at the Bowling Club. There wasn’t a proper platform but there were seven chairs arranged at one end of the room in an attempt at a semi-circle. The temperature in the room was somewhat higher than was comfortable. Christopher took off his outdoor jacket and hung it on the chair Jemima had directed him to, while Amaryllis advanced on a man who was still fine-tuning the layout of the candidates’ area.
Christopher glanced round the room, remembering what the young artists had said about the exhibition. He half-expected to see something that looked modern and maybe controversial, but the only photographs he could find seemed to be a sort of through-the-ages sequence of teams with their massive trophies held aloft. Then one of the pictures caught his eye. He got up to have a closer look.
‘Oh, my!’ said a familiar voice just behind him as he peered at the framed photo. ‘Are these dogs?’
‘Yes, I think so,’ said Christopher. He turned to greet her. ‘Hello, Maisie Sue. I didn’t expect to see you here.’
‘I don’t know why not,’ said Maisie Sue. ‘I’m a citizen around here, you know. I have a right to vote.’
Christopher doubted that Maisie Sue had been a citizen for long enough to grasp all the nuances of Pitkirtly politics. But then, Amaryllis hadn’t lived here for all that number of years, and she was prepared to throw herself into the middle of it all regardless. The way she did most things, in fact. He hoped she wouldn’t be too disappointed when one of the other candidates, who had lived here all his life and had been President of the Bowling Club for most of it, as had his father and grandfather before him, walked off with the Council seat. Christopher knew from local hearsay that his mother and grandmother had each in turn run the Women’s Guild and his brother was the retiring local councillor. It was hard to break that sort of cycle.
He stared again at the photograph. It was cleverly done. The faces of the Bowling Club members had been replaced with dog’s heads. There was a spaniel at one end, a Dalmatian at the other and a poodle peering over the top of the trophy in the middle.
Had the Bowling Club agreed to this perversion of their historic glories, or had one of the artists sneaked it in here without anybody noticing?
‘Clever, isn’t it?’ rumbled a man’s voice from behind them.
Christopher turned to see the President smiling at him. He had only met the man once before, during a difficult incident when his sister Caroline had got drunk very loudly and obnoxiously at a Bowling Club International Women’s Day event and he had been summoned to take her home. Because no local taxi driver would agree to transport her in that state, Christopher and the secretary of the club had had to man-handle her between them all the way along Longannet Terrace and down the top part of the High Street.