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Authors: Graham Thomas

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BOOK: Malice in the Highlands
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“I—I don't know really. It was just a feeling.”

“Did he go there often?”

“No, not often.”

Powell searched her face. “What about Monday night in particular? Can you think of any reason he might have gone to the Salar Lodge? For a drink, perhaps?”

“My father didn't drink,” she replied sharply.

“Miss Murray, the results of the postmortem indicate that your father had sufficient alcohol in his blood to render him intoxicated at the time of his death.”

She suddenly looked very pale. She sighed and brushed a strand of hair from her forehead. “If only I'd …”

Powell gave her the opportunity to elaborate and when she did not, he said quietly, “Would you like to tell me about it?”

She spoke mechanically. “My father used to be a hard drinker. I've spent half my life trying to hide it—from my friends, from myself. It went with the sort of life he led, I guess, but after he retired it became almost unbearable. Then one day he found some pot in my room. There was the inevitable blowup, as you can imagine, but in the
end I think it brought us closer together. He promised me then that he'd give up drinking and he was true to his word.”

“I see. Can you tell me what you and your father quarreled about?”

“I'd rather not. It's personal, but I can assure you it has nothing to do with what happened.”

“That seems fairly definite.”

“It is.”

Time to change gears. “I take it you know this Oliver Pickens?”

“Yes. He is—he was a business associate of my father's from the old days. I hadn't heard Father talk about him for years.”

“Were you aware that Mr. Pickens was spending the weekend at Castle Glyn?”

“No, Father didn't mention it.”

“Do you suppose Pickens might have just dropped in out of the blue?”

“It's possible, I suppose,” she said doubtfully.

“It may be important, Miss Murray. Would you mind if I questioned the staff about it?”

“No, of course not. But I'm not sure I understand …”

“If one were planning a murder, it's unlikely that one would openly arrange to be the intended victim's only house guest at the time.”

“Yes—yes, I see.”

“Were you personally acquainted with Pickens?”

“I met him years ago, but I'm not sure I'd even recognize him now.”

“Do you know if he might have had some business to conduct with your father?”

“My father didn't confide in me about his business affairs, but I suppose it's possible. I know he still kept his hand in to some extent.”

“Do you know if Pickens might have borne some grudge against your father?”

She shook her head. “No, I'm sorry.”

Powell swore silently. He had been hoping for more. “Miss Murray, I must admit to being a bit curious about your father's reasons for coming to Kinlochy.”

She shrugged lightly. “I don't think he ever really planned to retire, but he had some sort of disagreement with the other directors of the company he was promoting at the time, and they tried to force him out. Father had the support of the shareholders, so there's no doubt he could have stayed on if he'd wanted to, but I think he'd just had enough. He resigned from the boards of all of his companies, although he remained a major shareholder in several of them. He was quite bitter about it, but eventually I think he realized that he needed to put it all behind him and get on with his life. He'd spent quite a lot of time in the UK over the years and had fallen in love with Scotland. He often said that the Highlands reminded him of home.” She toyed absently with a small feather. “My paternal grandfather was a Scot and, at the risk of sounding trite, I think he felt some sort of connection with his ancestral homeland, although I'm sure he would never have put it that way. Anyway, he'd heard about Castle Glyn from a business associate and a few months later we moved in.” She paused thoughtfully. “Also, I think there were too many memories associated with my mother back home.”

“And what about you, Miss Murray?”

“What about me, Mr. Powell?” She looked at him with those penetrating green eyes.

“You're obviously an independent young woman. No doubt you had friends and a life of your own in Canada. You must have had to pull up roots to come here.”

Her eyes flashed. “I thought my father needed me. Is that so difficult to understand? Besides, I don't see that it's any of your business.”

Powell felt strangely wounded. “Please forgive me, Miss Murray; it is not my intention to pry into your personal affairs. I can assure you that my only concern is to find out what happened to your father.” But even as he spoke, he felt like a pompous arse.

Heather Murray sat motionless. Eventually she said quietly, “I'm sorry. It's just that right from the beginning it was obvious we didn't belong here. But there was nothing left for Father back home, and with so much time on his hands …” She hesitated. “Mr. Powell, my father wasn't perfect, not by a long shot, and we didn't always agree on things, but I know he had my best interests at heart.” Her voice trembled slightly. “Please forgive me— I suppose the strain is beginning to take its toll.”

“I understand.” There was a difficult moment as he considered the inevitability of his next question. “Miss Murray, you've hinted that your father was not entirely happy at Castle Glyn. Is it possible that he became depressed and took his own life?”

Her eyes were unwavering. “Suicide is out of the question, Mr. Powell. You didn't know my father. He would never have taken the easy way out.”

Powell nodded, satisfied. “Just one more question, Miss Murray: Did you happen to notice whether your father's
car was here when you got home Monday night? I understand it was found parked in its usual place in the garage Tuesday morning.”

She shook her head. “I didn't think to check. I suppose I just assumed he'd taken it.”

“Thank you, Miss Murray. You've been most helpful. I promise to let you know the moment there is anything to report.” He stood up. An awkward pause. “Do you need any help with the arrangements?”

“I'm managing all right, thanks. I've got a few more things to clear up here and then I'll be going home.”

“I see. Well, let me know if there's anything I can do. Anything at all.”

“Yes, of course.” He knew somehow that she wouldn't be calling him.

“Fine. I'll let myself out.”

She smiled without conviction. “Goodbye, Mr. Powell.”

He could sense her eyes on his back as he left the room.

Before leaving Castle Glyn, he managed to track down Ross. “Did Mr. Murray give any indication before he left with Mr. Pickens on Monday afternoon that he was expecting another guest?”

Ross thought strenuously for what seemed an interminable time. “Not exactly, sir,” he wheezed eventually. “However, he did make a remark about the silver, sir.”

“What?”

“He told me to polish the silver, sir.”

“And what do you make of that?”

Ross cocked his head. “I beg your pardon, sir?”

Powell repeated the question with exaggerated precision.

“Well, sir, it was his way of telling me that he wanted everything shipshape, in a manner of speaking, sir.”

“I see. And you're certain he didn't mention anything about another visitor?”

“Not that I can recall, sir.”

“Just one more thing, Ross. Would you say that Mr. Pickens's visit was an amicable one?”

Ross looked puzzled.

“I mean,” Powell said loudly, “did he and Mr. Murray have words or anything like that?”

The butler drew himself up to full height, or would have had he been able, and sniffed, whether as a result of indignation or a sinus condition Powell was unable to determine. “I'm sure I really couldn't say, sir.”

“Thank you, Ross. That will be all.” He made a mental note to have Shand interview the other domestics.

When he got back to the Salar Lodge, there was word waiting from Barrett. They had located Oliver Pickens.

CHAPTER 9

Powell stared out the window of his darkened sleeper as the coach rocked and swayed through the impenetrable blackness. The first blush of dawn was still an hour away and occasionally he could see the lights of a cottage or farmhouse in the distance, with curtained windows that were cosily inviting yet nostalgically remote and unattainable. He switched on the reading light and noticed his wan reflection in the window. Not yet fifty, with most of his hair and just enough gray to look experienced, he was supposedly in his prime. But at that moment he felt bloody old.

When Barrett had suggested that he return to London to interview Oliver Pickens, he had jumped at the chance. He knew that he needed to get away from Kinlochy for a while, as if by physically removing himself from the scene he might regain a sense of perspective. He had been in the midst of packing when Shand arrived at the Salar Lodge and dropped his bombshell about Heather Murray and young Whitely. The revelation weighed heavily on him and he had been unable to sleep since
boarding the train at Aviemore. He knew he was reacting like an adolescent fool, but the young woman had stirred something in him that he hadn't felt for a long time. The sensation was unsettling.

He turned to his book and began to read in a desultory fashion but found himself unable to concentrate. He tossed the book aside and turned off the light. Eventually, lulled by the hypnotic clattering of the train, he slipped fitfully into the embrace of a faceless succubus.

The train pulled into Euston Station shortly before eight
A.M.
It was a typical damp, gray London morning. Powell hailed a taxi and arrived home as the breakfast dishes were being cleared. He detected the lingering aroma of bacon and coffee.

A few minutes later over a disappointing oat bran muffin (Marion insisted that it was just the thing for his cholesterol), he was explaining his surprise appearance. “I was going to call last night, but it was late and I didn't want to wake you.” Was that the real reason? he wondered. “There's been a break in the case; we've located a key witness in London and I've come down to interview him. If all goes well, I'll be returning to Scotland tomorrow night.”

Marion frowned slightly. “I wish I'd known. We might have done something tonight, but I've made arrangements to take the boys up to Ely to visit Sarah. We won't be getting back until late tomorrow, so I probably won't see you.”

Powell had forgotten that it was Spring Bank holiday. “I wouldn't want you to change your plans on my account. You don't see your sister that often.”

“No, I suppose not.”

There was a lengthy silence.

“How are things—in Scotland, I mean?”

“All right.”

“Not much of a holiday, I take it.”

“You know how it is.”

“Duty calls.” She gave a mock salute.

“Something like that.”

She placed her hand on his arm. “You should really try to unwind, Ers. Life's too short.”

“You're telling me.”

“I know things have been getting you down lately. But all you seem to think about is work.” She brushed the hair from her face, exasperated. “For goodness’ sake, you're supposed to be on holiday.”

“Since when have you been so interested in my so-called holiday?”

“Look, I understand you need to get away, not that it seems to do you any good.”

“You'd be surprised.”

“I'm serious, Ers.”

“So am I.”

“I think we need to spend more time together.”

He shrugged. “It's hard to find the time, isn't it?” He searched her face carefully. “What's this all about, if you don't mind me asking?”

“I've just been thinking, that's all.”

“A dangerous pastime, in my experience.” He rose abruptly from the table. “Where are the boys?”

She sighed. “Upstairs, I imagine.”

For the first time, he felt, rather than heard, the faint thump of music. “I'll go see.”

Later, after Peter and David had gone off to a football match, he and Marion made love. It was spontaneous, unexpected. All the more so since he would have been hard pressed to recall when they'd last slept together. It had begun innocently enough, Marion brushing against him as they passed in the upstairs hallway. Her breast touching his arm and the scent of her hair. She had turned to say something, reaching for him as his mouth silenced hers.

Afterward, as she lay contentedly in his arms, she interpreted his silence as the unspoken ease of long familiarity. In reality he was feeling slightly guilty; he'd been thinking about Heather Murray.

When Powell arrived at the Yard he found Detective-Sergeant Bill Black on the early turn.

“How's the holiday, Mr. Powell?” Black remarked affably with a barely suppressed chortle.

“Very funny. Anything for me?”

“A fax from Inverness this morning. It's on your desk.”

Powell grunted. “How's our friend?”

“He's cooling his heels downstairs, and I'm given to understand that he's not very happy about it.”

“Have him brought up to one of the interview rooms.”

“Right.”

“Say, was I seeing things, or did I see a copy of
The Collected Poems of John Donne
on your desk?” Powell called out to the sergeant.

“It's for an evening class, sir.”

Powell examined his colleague with interest. “Really?”

Sergeant Black looked slightly embarrassed as he nodded and turned to go downstairs.

Powell poured a cup of coffee and spent the next fifteen minutes reviewing the material Barrett had sent. Occasionally he pursed his lips in a silent whistle.

The interview room was sparsely furnished with a Formica table bolted to the floor and two molded plastic chairs that were intended to bounce harmlessly off the cranium if thrown by a dissatisfied client. There were no windows, but special fluorescent lighting, prescribed by psychologists to soothe the savage breast, created a warm pink ambience that Powell found mildly irritating. None of your naked swinging light bulbs and rubber hosepipes these days, as Detective-Sergeant Black had once been heard to remark a trifle wistfully.

Oliver Pickens was already seated at the table. Without a word, Powell sat down across from him. Detective-Sergeant Black stood unobtrusively in the corner, slightly behind and to the right of Pickens, notebook at the ready.

BOOK: Malice in the Highlands
11.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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