Authors: Graham Thomas
So it has come to this, Powell thought. He felt empty, drained of any capacity for action. “Why, Pinky? Why did you do it?”
“I've told you why.”
“But cold-blooded murder?”
“I prefer to think of it as the extermination of a particularly odious variety of parasite.”
“But how does it change things? You've been managing all right.”
“That's easy for you to say,” Warburton snapped, his face turning a bright pink. “I'm sorry, Erskine,” he added quickly. “That was unfair; you've been most understanding. But you have no idea what it's like selling
shirts to tourists in Jermyn Street. You of all people should know that I wasn't cut out to be a boxwallah. To answer your question—no, it doesn't entirely make up for what I've been through. But it bloody well helps.”
“The point is you got caught.”
“I guess I did at that, that is if you feel compelled to do your duty.” He hesitated. “But of course you do. Mind you, I could deny that this conversation ever took place.”
“Yes, I suppose you could.”
Warburton smiled wearily. “Don't worry, old chap, I'll go quietly.” He stood up. “I'll just collect my things.”
Powell nodded. He sat immobilized. The minutes stretched out slowly. His consciousness was focused on the bronze salmon above the fireplace.
, the leaper. He blinked slowly. The figure seemed to shift and change like a hallucinogenic mandala. Suddenly he leapt to his feet. “Christ Almighty!”
Powell drove like a man possessed. When he arrived at the Old Bridge he found Warburton leaning over the parapet, gazing intently at the river below. The water had dropped considerably over the past week and numerous boulders were now exposed, breaking the current into a swirling pattern of complex vortices. The sky was a dull gunmetal gray and there wasn't a breath of air. Somewhere nearby, a raven croaked harshly.
Powell called out. Warburton turned and raised his arm. Powell approached with careful, deliberate steps. He stopped about ten paces away.
“Come with me, Pinky, and I'll do what I can.”
Warburton began to move slowly toward him. He
shook his head. “It's no good, Erskine. Prison food wouldn't agree with me.”
Instinctively, Powell braced himself. Warburton turned, took several quick steps, and then, before Powell could react, he vaulted with surprising agility over the parapet, landing, after what seemed like an interminable interval, with a sickening thud on the rocks below. Powell rushed to the low stone wall. He watched as Warburton's body drifted downstream with the current, deflecting crazily off one boulder and then another, as if in play in some ghastly pinball game.
The events of the past few days were little more than a jumbled blur in Powell's mind. There had been statements to be given and arrangements to be made, the calls to Marion, and the inevitable bouts of commiseration with Barrett in the lounge bar of the Salar Lodge. But he ruthlessly suppressed any more distinct impressions. There would be time enough for postmortems later. Having only a few remaining hours in Kinlochy, he'd managed to slip away and wander down to the river, rod in hand, with no particular intention other than to get away by himself. Away from the well meaning but oppressive ministrations of Nigel and Ruby and even Alex, who had been exhibiting disturbing tendencies of a mother hen of late.
The morning was bright and transparent and hinted of summer. He stopped at a likely looking pool and put up his rod. Wading in at the head, he began to switch out line, savoring the sensuous bend and spring of the old cane rod. Heaving as hard as he dared, he cast a full thirty yards of line down and across the pool. After the current had pulled the line around to a point directly below him, he took a step downstream, lifted his fly to the surface with the long rod, swept the line upstream and then out over the river again in a graceful rolling movement. In this manner he slowly worked his way downstream to the bottom end of the pool where the river narrowed and drew into the broken reach below. He let his fly hang motionless in the rough water for a few minutes, surmising that on such a warm, sunny morning a fish would feel more secure in the tumble of the riffle than in the breathless transparency of the pool. He began to reel in his line. So much for that little theory.
Then, without warning, his rod bowed sharply and a twisting slab of silver erupted from the water, scattering spray like a shower of molten diamonds. His reel screamed as the fish ran downstream, aided by the pull of the current. He scrambled ashore and began to play the fish, giving it line when it wanted to run and applying pressure when it tried to rest. Although there were some anxious moments, for one of the few times in his life he never once doubted the outcome. He maneuvered the salmon into a position opposite him and slightly upstream, so that the fish was forced to work against both the current and the pull of the line. It quickly tired and Powell was able to draw it into shallow water over a shingled bar.
It was a lovely creature, weighing perhaps fifteen pounds, silver bright and throbbing with the urgency of life, aware at some primal level that its predestined journey home from the Greenland seas to the spawning bed of its birth had been cruelly interrupted. It was the largest salmon he had ever caught and, as he bent down to dispatch it, he couldn't help wondering what Barrett would say. He lifted the staghorn priest above his head, hesitated, then lowered his hand.
The fish lay quietly on its side, its gill covers barely moving. Using a pair of pliers, Powell removed the tiny double hook from the fish's jaw and then, cradling its body in one arm while gripping the narrow wrist of the fish's tail tightly with the other hand, waded into the river. When he was knee-deep, he carefully lowered the salmon into the water with its head facing into the current. He worked the fish back and forth with a gentle, rocking motion, causing water to flow over its gills. After a few moments he felt the first faint stirring, as if the great fish were awakening from a dream and then, with a powerful thrust of its tail, it was free.
Powell watched, his mind empty, as the salmon, reflecting sunlight like a mirror, turned away with the current and slowly disappeared into the river's blue embrace.
Don't miss the next Erskine Powell mystery:
MALICE IN CORNWALL
by Graham Thomas
Coming this summer from Ivy Books.
For a sneak preview, read on.
The moon was large that night and so was she. She had left her friends in the pub and set out alone along the beach humming the latest Beatles tune to herself. The lights of the pub and the din of revelry—snatches of laughter, the faint tintinnabulation of clinking glasses on the patio, and the beat of the music—dwindled in the distance. She thought about her boyfriend back there drinking himself into a stupor. Their romantic weekend at the seaside hadn't exactly turned out that way; he'd be no good at all to her later, but then he wasn't much good at the best of times, and she wasn't into alcohol. Screw
, she was having a gas!
She kicked off her shoes and ran along the beach, heart pounding at the rush of air into her open mouth, her long hair flying like a white mare's tail in the moonlight. She experienced the sharp texture of sand beneath her feet, the cooling breeze against her skin, the iodine smell of the sea. She spread her arms wide, shafts of golden light emanating from her fingertips, encircling the moon with a writhing aurora. “God, I'm stoned!” she shouted to anyone who cared to listen.
The sea whispered to her, drawing her closer to the water's edge. The sand had given way to shingle, so she slowed, prancing gingerly amongst the stones; patches of slimy sea wrack squished between her toes and she wished that she had kept her shoes. Her eyes widened. The beach was moving as if a million chitinous creatures were swarming over it and there was an acrid smell in the air. L mustn't freak, she told herself.
She stared in wonder at her body; it was bathed in a suffusive light that seemed to originate beneath her skin, perhaps from the intricate pattern of blue-wire veins she could trace with her finger. The light expanded around her and she was no longer sure what was inside or outside, or whether the distinction even had any meaning.
The waves hissed and clawed at the rocks with white-foam fingers. She could sense the rise and fall of luminous seaweed in the bay and myriad cold eyes searching the deeps. She knew somehow that she was not alone.
She couldn't understand why she hadn't noticed it before. Shimmering in the moonlight like a wondrous mirror, a large pool filled by the rising tide was now isolated by a circle of rocks jutting up like broken black teeth. She felt as if she were floating above its quicksilver surface. She tried to focus at a point beyond her reflection to see what lay at the heart of it. There was something there, just beyond the limits of her perception, something elusive, insubstantial, yet deeply meaningful and transcendent.
After what seemed like hours, an image slowly began to resolve itself beneath the surface of the water. A young girl perhaps sixteen or seventeen stared back at her with incredulous eyes, pupils dilated like her own, skin like alabaster and a cloud of dark hair drifting around her face as if softly stirred by her breath. Except how could she be breathing?
I'm really tripping now, she thought wonderingly. She moved closer. The girl in the pool was naked like some lovely mermaid, wearing only a choker, a black satin ribbon encircling her slender neck with an ivory cameo in the center.
She stared at this simple if incongruous adornment, fascinated. The choker was oddly frayed at the edges, and it occurred to her that something was not quite right. She was coming down fast.
She suddenly realized that it wasn't a choker at all, but rather a deep dark gash, the severed trachea exposed like some obscene white hosepipe. The throat had been neatly cut.
They could hear her screaming all the way back at the pub.
MALICE IN CORNWALL
by Graham Thomas
Coming this summer from Ivy Books.
An Ivy Book
Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group
Copyright © 1998 by Gordon Kosakoski
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright
Conventions. Published in the United States by The Ballantine
Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New
York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 97-95288
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