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Authors: M.C. Beaton,Prefers to remain anonymous

Hamish Macbeth 18 (2002) - Death of a Celebrity

BOOK: Hamish Macbeth 18 (2002) - Death of a Celebrity
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Title:

Death of a Celebrity

Series:

Book 18 in the
Hamish Macbeth
series

Author:

M.C. Beaton

Year:

2002

Synopsis:

There’s more than heather shaking in Lochdubh when Constable Hamish Macbeth investigates the murder of a gorgeous television reporter whose inflammatory reportage and unscrupulous investigative tactics have incensed the entire village—and left no shortage of suspects.

ONE

The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars
,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings
.

—William Shakespeare

H
amish Macbeth did not like change, although this was something he would not even admit to himself, preferring to think of himself as a go-ahead, modern man.

But the time-warp that was the village of Lochdubh in northwest Scotland suited him very well. As the village policeman, he knew everyone. He enjoyed strolling through the village or driving around the heathery hills, dropping in here and there for a chat and a cup of tea.

The access to Lochdubh was by a single, twisting, one-track road. It nestled at the foot of two huge mountains and faced a long sea loch down which Atlantic winds brought mercurial changes of weather. Apart from a few tourists in the summer months, strangers were few and far between. The days went on much as they had done for the past century, although sheep prices had dropped like a stone and the small farmers and crofters were feeling the pinch. From faraway Glasgow and Edinburgh, authoritative voices suggested the crofters diversify, but the land was hard and stony, and fit only for raising sheep.

So Hamish felt the intrusion into his world of a newspaper office was unsettling. The owner⁄editor, Sam Wills, had taken over an old Victorian boarding house on the waterfront and, with the help of a grant from the Highlands and Islands Commission, had started a weekly newspaper called
Highland Times
. It was an almost immediate success, rising to a circulation of nearly one thousand—and that
was
a success in the sparsely populated area of the Highlands—not because of its news coverage but because of its columns of gossip, its cookery recipes, and above all, its horoscope. The horoscope was written by Elspeth Grant and was amazingly detailed. Startled Highlanders read that, for example, they would suffer from back pains at precisely eight o’clock on a Monday morning, and as back pain was a favourite excuse for not going to work, people said it was amazing how accurate the predictions were.

But Hamish’s initial disapproval began to fade although he thought astrology a lot of hocus-pocus. There were only three on the editorial side: Sam, and Elspeth, and one old drunken reporter who somehow wrote the whole of the six-page tabloid-sized paper among them.

He did not know that the larger world of the media was about to burst in on his quiet world.

Over in Strathbane, the television station, Strathbane Television, was in trouble. It had been chugging along, showing mostly reruns of old American sitcoms and a few cheaply produced local shows. They had just been threatened with losing their licence unless they became more innovative.

The scene in the boardroom was fraught with tension and worry. Despite the No Smoking signs, the air was thick with cigarette smoke. “What we need,” said the head of television features, Rory MacBain, “is a hard-hitting programme.” Over his head and slightly behind him, a television screen flickered showing a rerun of
Mr. Ed
. “People come to the Highlands but they do not stay. Why?”

“That’s easy,” said the managing director, Callum Bissett. “The weather’s foul and it’s damn hard to make a living.”

As a babble of voices broke out complaining and explaining, Rory leaned back in his chair and remembered an interesting evening he’d had in Edinburgh with a BBC researcher. He had met her at the annual television awards at the Edinburgh Festival. He had been amazed that someone so go-ahead and with such stunning, blonde good looks should be only a researcher. He had been even more amazed when she had taken him to bed. He had promised her that if there was ever any chance of giving her a break, he would remember her.

He hunched forward and cut through the voices. “I have an idea.”

They all looked at him hopefully.

“Our biggest failure,” he said in measured tones, “is the
Countryside
programme.”

Felicity Pearson, who produced it, let out a squawk of protest.

“The ratings are lousy, Felicity,” said Rory brutally. “For a start, it’s all in Gaelic. Secondly, you have a lot of old fogies sitting at a desk pontificating. We should start a new series, call it, say,
Highland Life
, and get someone hard-hitting and glamorous to present it. Start off by exploding this myth of the poor crofter.”

“They
are
poor now,” protested Felicity. “Sheep prices are dreadful.”

Rory went on as if she had not spoken. He said that although people did not like to live in the Highlands, they liked to see programmes about the area. With a glamorous presenter, with a good, hard, punchy line, they could make people sit up and take notice, and the more Rory remembered the blonde charms of the researcher—what was her name? Crystal French, that was it—the more convincing he became. At last his idea was adopted. He retreated to his office and searched through his records until he found Crystal’s Edinburgh phone number.

After he had finished talking, Crystal put down the phone, her heart beating hard. This was the big break and she meant to make the most of it. She would be glad to get out of Edinburgh, glad to get away from being a mere researcher. Researchers worked incredibly long hours and had to kowtow to the whims of every presenter. Who would have thought that a one·night stand with that fat little man would have paid such dividends? And she had just been coming around to the idea that a woman can’t really sleep her way to the top! She did not realise that her past failure to move on had been because of her reputation for doing just that thing. There were a lot of women executives in broadcasting these days who had got to the top with hard work and brains and did not look kindly on any of their sisters who were still trying the old·fashioned methods, so when her name had come up for promotion there had always been some woman on the board who would make sure it was turned down flat.

Rory, when he met her at the Strathbane Station, was struck anew by her looks. Her long blonde hair floated about her shoulders, and her slim figure was clothed in a business suit, but with a short skirt to show off the beauty of her excellent legs. Her eyes were very large and green, almost hypnotic. Crystal kissed him warmly. She had no intention of going to bed with him again. He had done his bit. He was only head of features. If necessary, she would seduce one of his superiors.

Hamish Macbeth did not watch much television. But he did read newspapers. He was intrigued to read that a new show called
Highland Life
was to start off with an investigation into village shops in the Highlands. He decided to watch it. He expected it to be a series of cosy interviews.

The show was to go out at ten o’clock that evening. He was about to settle down to watch it when there was a knock at the kitchen door. He opened it to find with dismay that he was being subjected to a visit from the Currie sisters. It had started to rain, and the sisters, who were twins, stood there with raindrops glistening on their identical plastic rain hats, identical glasses, and identical raincoats. “Our telly’s on the blink,” said Nessie, pushing past him. Jessie followed, taking off her plastic hat and shaking raindrops over the kitchen floor. “I was just going to bed,” lied Hamish, but they hung up their coats and trotted off into his living room as if he had not spoken.

Hamish sighed and followed them. The Currie sisters were unmarried, middle-aged ladies who ruled the parish. Jessie had an irritating habit of repeating everything. “We’re here to see that new show, that new show,” she said, switching on the television set. “Don’t you have the remote control, the remote control?”

“I need the exercise,” said Hamish crossly.

“A cup of tea would be grand,” said Nessie.

“I’ll get tea during the ads,” snapped Hamish.

“Shhh,” admonished Nessie. “It’s on.”

The presenter was walking down a village street. “That’s Braikie,” hissed Nessie, recognising a nearby village. Crystal’s well-modulated voice could be heard saying, “People deplore the decline of the village shops. The thing to ask yourself is, would you shop in one? Or do you motor to the nearest large town or supermarket? If you do, what are you missing?”

“That’s old Mrs. Maggie Harrison’s shop she’s going into, going into,” said Jessie. “Oh, look at Mrs. Harrison’s face. It hasnae been rehearsed, rehearsed. She’s fair dumfounert.”

“We’re here from Strathbane Television,” Crystal was saying, “and we are just going to have a look on your shelves.” She picked up a basket. “That skirt is hardly covering her bum,” exclaimed Nessie.

“What have we here?” Crystal held up a tin of beans. “Why are so many of these cans bashed?” she asked. She winked saucily at the camera. “I don’t think there is one unmarked tin in this shop.”

“It’s because she gets them cheap,” muttered Nessie. “But she sells them cheap. They’re fine. How else is the poor old biddy going to compete with the supermarkets?”

“And this?” A packet of biscuits. “This is past it’s sell-by date.”

And so on and on Crystal went, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Mrs. Harrison was trembling and crying.

Hamish felt great relief when this horrible blonde stopped the torment, but it turned out she had moved to Jock Kennedy’s general store in Drim, and Jock Kennedy was having nothing to do with her disparaging remarks. “Get the hell out o’ here, you nasty cow,” he roared. And so it went on, from shop to shop.

“So you see,” said Crystal, summing up against a tremendous background of mountains and heather, “the decline of the village shop is because they cannot possibly offer the same goods at the same prices as the supermarket. Why mourn their passing? Good riddance to bad rubbish, is what I say.”

The Currie sisters sat stunned. “Well, I never, I never,” said Jessie.

“There’s one good thing,” said her sister, “there’ll be so many complaints that the show will be taken off.”

Hamish privately thought that the show would get the response it had set out to get. Infuriated viewers would tune in the following week just to see how nasty it could get, and ratings would soar. There had been very few advertisements, but they would get more.

He switched off the television set and saw the Currie sisters on their way. They were too upset to notice that he had not given them any tea.

Viewers and locals, moved by the humiliation of Mrs. Harrison, flooded into her shop during the following week to buy goods and commiserate with her. Newspapers interviewed her. Elspeth wrote a savage critique of the show and a flattering article about Mrs. Harrison and her shop. The Highlands were rallying behind the underdog and forgetting that Mrs. Harrison sold some quite dreadful goods and that her local nickname had been, before her appearance on television, Salmonella Maggie. Despite Elspeth’s writing a further article telling people not to watch the next show because low ratings were the only thing that would get it taken off, everyone in Lochdubh, and that included Hamish Macbeth, switched on for the next airing of
Highland Life
. This episode was called ‘The Myth of the Poor Crofter.’

Her first interview was with The Laird. The Laird was not a laird at all, but a crofter called Barry McSween, who had earned his nickname by farming several crofts, so instead of having a croft, which is really a small holding, he had quite a good-sized farm. But the drop in sheep prices had crippled him and his temper had suffered. Sheep were expensive to slaughter because, according to government regulations, the spine had to be removed and that added tremendously to the cost. Hoping that things would get better, he had bought himself a new Volvo, and the camera focused on its new licence plate and gleaming glory before moving in on his red, round face.

At first Crystal wooed him, cooing that things were bad and how was he surviving? Barry, like a lot of people, had privately nursed dreams of being on television. He invited her into his croft house, which in the palmy days had been extended. The camera panned over the expensively furnished living room and then into the large airy kitchen, which had every labour-saving device. Happily Barry bragged about his possessions while Crystal smiled at him and led him on. Elated, Barry preened and volunteered that he had a good voice and would she like a song? Crystal would. Hamish prayed that the unwitting Barry would sing a Scottish song, but he sang ‘I Did It My Way,’ in an awful nasal drone during which the camera moved to Crystal’s beautiful face, which was alight with mocking laughter.

When he had finished and was sprawling back in his leather sofa with a smug grin on his face, Crystal started to go in for the kill. She said that in the south particularly, people heard a lot about the poor crofter and were not aware that someone like Barry owned so much land and lived in such luxury. Too late did Barry realise the way the interview was going. He blustered about how he could hardly make ends meet. Crystal went remorselessly on. Barry ended up by ordering her out of his house. It was unfortunate that just at that moment, Barry’s wife, who had been ordered to stay away because he wanted the show to himself, should come driving up in her Jaguar. It was an old Jaguar and Barry had got it cheap. But his wife kept it gleaming and well-cared-for and it looked extremely rich.

Had Crystal left it at that, the reaction to her programme might not have been so violent, because Barry was not popular, but she picked on another crofter, Johnny Liddesdale, a quiet little man. The extension to his croft house he had built himself over the years. The furniture inside he had made himself. He stammered and blushed during the interview while Crystal made him look like a fool, and a lying fool at that. How could he plead poverty when he had such a beautiful home? Hamish could not bear to watch any more and switched off the set.

BOOK: Hamish Macbeth 18 (2002) - Death of a Celebrity
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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