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Authors: M. C. Beaton

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Death of a Witch

BOOK: Death of a Witch
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Copyright © 2009 by Marion Chesney

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Grand Central Publishing

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com
.

First eBook Edition: February 2009

Grand Central Publishing is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The Grand Central Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-446-54409-2

Contents

Copyright Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Epilogue

Previous Hamish Macbeth Mysteries by M. C. Beaton

Death of a Gental Lady

Death of a Maid

Death of a Dreamer

Death of a Bore

Death of a Poison Pen

Death of a Celebrity

Death of a Dustman

Death of an Addict

A Highland Christmas

Death of a Scriptwriter

Death of a Dentist

Death of a Macho Man

Death of a Nag

Death of a Charming Man

Death of a Gossip

Death of a Cad

Death of an Outsider

Death of a Perfect Wife

Death of a Hussy

Death of a Snob

Death of a Prankster

Death of a Glutton

Death of a Travelling Man

For Rene and Carole of Stow-on-the-Wold, with affection.

All characters in this book as well as the village of Lochdubh are figments of the author’s imagination and bear no relation to any person living or dead.

Chapter One

By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.


William Shakespeare

Police Constable Hamish Macbeth, heading home to his police station in the village of Lochdubh in Sutherland, heaved a sigh of relief. He stopped for a moment by the side of the road and rolled down the car window. He was driving a battered old Rover, manufactured before the days of power steering and electronic windows.

Hamish breathed in all the familiar scents of the Scottish Highlands: peat smoke, wild thyme, pine, and salt air blown in on the Atlantic gales from the coast.

Urged by his friend Angela Brodie to go abroad on holiday for once in his life, Hamish had opted for a cheap off-season package trip to the south of Spain.

His hopes of a holiday romance had been dashed as soon as he arrived. The hotel, ambitiously named The Royal Britannia, catered to British old-age pensioners who wanted to escape the winter back home and the heating bills that came with it. He was in great demand at tea dances, as the other guests were mostly sprightly ladies in their sixties and seventies. When he tried to escape from the hotel food, which was designed for the British palate—chips with everything—and went to some little Spanish restaurant, he would find that several of the ladies had followed him only to become amorous over jugs of sangria. Cursed with innate highland courtesy, he could not find it in him to be rude enough to get rid of them.

But now he was heading home. He had bought the old banger of a car to leave at Inverness airport when he started his journey, not wanting to use the police Land Rover and so incur the wrath of his bosses.

Hamish started off again as the car coughed and spluttered, threatening to collapse at each steep hill like a weary horse.

At last he drove over the humpbacked bridge and into the village of Lochdubh.

He uncoiled his long length from the little car and stood up and stretched. Fingers of rain were blowing down the sea loch, but there was a patch of blue over to the west heralding better weather to come. Although it was November, the proximity of the Gulf Stream meant there were often mild days.

Then for some reason he could not explain, he began to feel uneasy. It seemed that the very air was full of some vague threat.

He shook himself impatiently, unlocked the police station door, and went in.

There was a note from Angela lying on the kitchen table. It read: “Hamish, this is the very last time I look after your pets for you. Come and collect them as soon as you can. Angela.”

Hamish owned a mongrel called Lugs and a domesticated wild cat called Sonsie. Angela Brodie was the doctor’s wife. He went out again and walked to Angela’s cottage. The cat and dog looked at him sullenly as if he were not to be forgiven for having left them.

“About time, too,” said Angela crossly.

“They weren’t too much trouble, surely?” said Hamish.

“They kept escaping and going to look for you and I had the gamekeeper, Willie, and several of the others up on the braes to hunt them down and bring them back. Oh, well, sit down and have a coffee and tell me about your trip. Lots of sunshine, pretty girls?”

“I’m glad to be home, and I don’t want to talk about it,” said Hamish.

The wild cat put a large paw on Hamish’s leg and gave a low hiss. Lugs, a shaggy dog with floppy ears and odd blue eyes, stared up at Hamish accusingly.

Hamish sat down at the cluttered kitchen table where Angela’s cats roamed among the unwashed breakfast dishes. Looking at Angela, with her wispy hair and gentle face, Hamish wondered, not for the first time, how a doctor’s wife could be so unhygienic.

“I had an offer for your cat while you were away,” said Angela, putting a mug of coffee down in front of him. “Most insistent, she was. Last offer was a hundred pounds.”

“Who are you talking about?”

“Of course, you don’t know. We’ve got a newcomer. She bought Sandy Ross’s cottage.”

“Must have got it for a song,” said Hamish. “That place has only a corrugated iron roof and an outside toilet. Who is she?”

“Catriona Beldame.”

“What sort of a name is that? Is she foreign?”

“No, she has a bit of a highland accent.”

“And where’s she from?”

“Nobody knows. She just arrived. She’s . . . well, odd.”

“How odd?”

“She gives me the shivers. She’s very tall, as tall as you, and she has a queer sort of mediaeval face, very white, and yellowish brown eyes with heavy white lids. She has a long thin nose and a small mouth. She saw your cat and decided she must have it. There’s something else.”

“What else?”

“Some of the local men have been seen visiting her late at night.”

“Dinnae tell me Lochdubh’s got its own brothel at last!”

“That’s not it. I think she supplies herbal medicines.”

“So why men, why late at night? Why no women?”

“That’s the odd thing. No one talks about it. The Currie sisters said something to me about the men visiting her and then they clammed up.”

“Not like that precious pair,” commented Hamish. The Currie sisters were spinster twins and usually a great fund of gossip, some of it at Hamish’s expense. “I’d better go and visit this newcomer.”

“If you can find the time. Detective Chief Inspector Blair has been demanding to know when you’re getting back. He said that you’re to report to police headquarters in Strathbane as soon as you arrive.”

“Why?”

“It might be because some gang has been robbing all the little local post offices in the north. Lochinver was attacked last week and then Altnabuie. You know how it is. They think we’re easy pickings this far north and with only one policeman to cover hundreds and hundreds of square miles.”

Hamish returned to the station, changed into his uniform, helped his pets into the police Land Rover, and set off over the hills.

As he drove down the long slope that led to Strathbane, he thought the town really was a blot on the beauty of the highland landscape with its decaying docks, crumbling tower blocks, vice and crime.

Steady rain was beginning to fall as he walked up the steps of headquarters and made his way up to the detectives’ room.

Detective Sergeant Jimmy Anderson cried, “Well, if it isn’t
señor
back from Spain! Bring me a present?”

“Some duty-free whisky.”

“Got it with you?”

“Back at the station.”

Hamish noticed that Jimmy’s usually sharp foxy face was getting blurred round the edges and his blue eyes were watery. The amount the detective drank was at last beginning to show.

“What’s all this about burglaries?” asked Hamish.

“Lot of them at wee post offices.”

“What’s been done about it?”

“Nothing much. The territory’s huge and we never know where they’ll hit next. Blair wants to see you.”

The man himself lumbered out of his office. He was a thickset Glaswegian who loathed Hamish.

“There you are, you teuchter,” he snarled. “Anderson, gie him what we’ve got on thae burglaries. I want a quick result.”

Blair went back into his office and slammed the door.

“I’ve printed off all the reports for you,” said Jimmy. “It’s always the same. Three men, masked wi’ balaclavas. One wi’ a sawn-off shotgun. Nobody’s been hurt so far.”

“Any undercover cops been sent out to hide in the post offices?” asked Hamish.

“Aye, for a bit. But the villains always chose the one there wasn’t a cop in.”

Hamish pulled out a chair and sat down. “Now, there’s a thing. Could it be possible that some cheil here was giving them information?”

“Aw, come on, Hamish. It’s hardly the Great Train Robbery we’re talking about.”

“Who’s the newest policeman on the force?”

“Policewoman. Wee Alice Donaldson.”

“Where is she right now?”

“Off duty today. Och, Hamish. You just can’t think . . .”

“Of anything else,” said Hamish. “Let me have her address.”

Jimmy applied himself to the computer and then said, “Here it is. Write it down. Eight Bannoch Brae. That’s down near the docks. Not a tower block. There’s a row of wee houses just before you get to the tower blocks on the Inverness Road.”

“And what’s she like?”

“Neat, quiet. Come on, laddie. You’ve had too much sun.”

“It iss worth a try,” said Hamish angrily, the sudden sibilance of his accent showing he was uneasy. “I haff nothing else to go on.”

“Suit yourself. Did you get laid?”

But Hamish was already walking away.

When Hamish left headquarters, the wind had risen. Rain slashed into his face as he hurried to the Land Rover.

He found Bannoch Brae and parked outside number 8. “Won’t be long,” he said to his animals. “Sit there and shut up and I’ll buy ye a fish supper on the road home.”

There was a weedy garden in front of a small stone house. Hamish went up to the front door and rang the bell.

The door opened and a girl stood looking up at him. She was not very tall. Two wings of black hair hung on either side of a thin face.

“Alice Donaldson?” asked Hamish.

“Yes, that’s me. It’s my day off. Am I wanted back on duty?”

“No, I chust wanted to be having a wee word with you.”

“Come in.”

She stood aside to let him past and then closed the door and ushered him into a small front room.

The room seemed rather bleak. It was simply furnished with a three-piece suite and a paraffin heater in front of the empty fireplace.

“Sit down,” said Alice. “Tea?”

“No, thank you. I’m chust back from Spain and I haff been asked to investigate the burglaries of the post offices,” said Hamish, nervously wondering why his imagination had leapt to the conclusion that some member of the force had been tipping off the gang.

“Oh, yes? How can I help? I haven’t had anything to do with any of the cases.”

Hamish could not see much of her face because of those wings of hair. Didn’t they irritate her?

She was wearing a man’s shirt tied at the waist and a pair of worn jeans. His hazel eyes suddenly sharpened.

“What are you staring at?” she demanded.

“That looks like a cigarette burn on your neck,” said Hamish.

Her hand fluttered up to the burn. “It’s nothing. I’m clumsy.”

Hamish looked around the room. He could not see any ashtray; neither could he smell smoke. If she smoked, he thought, then the fabric upholstery would have retained some of the smell.

He was sitting at one end of the sofa and Alice was in an armchair next to him.

Hamish leaned forward suddenly and swept a wing of her hair back from her face. There was a black-and-yellow bruise on her cheek. She jerked her head back, and the other wing of hair flew back. The other side of her face was bruised as well.

“Who did this to ye, lassie?” asked Hamish gently.

BOOK: Death of a Witch
11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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