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Authors: Graham Thomas

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“But more often than not, it's a mining venture of some description that's being touted. It's amazing, really. A good promoter can create a sort of feeding frenzy for his stock, which of course drives up the price. At the appropriate time he sells his own shares, making a tidy profit in the process, and then moves on to some new project, rather like a honey bee flitting from one flower to the next. The promotion stops, the share price plummets when fear supersedes greed as the primary motivating factor, and the hapless investor ends up taking a bath. Generally the only thing that gets mined is the investors’ pocket. It's all perfectly legal, I suppose, but whether one would describe such an individual as a pillar of the community is another matter.”

“You seem to know quite a lot about it,” Powell observed casually.

Sanders laughed unself-consciously. “It's part of our frontier culture.”

They sat without speaking for a few moments. Then suddenly Sanders said, “This, all of this, it's so—so utterly civilized.” He gestured vaguely, taking in their pastoral surroundings and the orderly progression of fishermen down the beat, managing to encompass at the same time the entire British Way of Life.

For a taste of truly refined British behavior, Powell was about to suggest an afternoon with the lads on the terraces, but why shatter the poor chap's illusions? He got to his feet. “I'd better push off. You're not staying at the Salar Lodge by any chance?”

Sanders shook his head. “I've got a bed-and-breakfast in town. I was lucky enough to get a day ticket for the hotel water.”

“Well, cheers. And good luck.”

“Thanks. Maybe we'll bump into each other again.”

“You never know,” Powell said.

As he continued along the river path, Powell reflected that his newly acquired knowledge of Murray's antecedents had considerably widened the field of possibilities. In a line of work dominated by fear and greed, as Sanders had put it, there was presumably ample scope for making enemies. Still, there was no doubt a perfectly mundane explanation for Charles Murray's death. Yet Powell could not dispel the growing feeling that there was something very peculiar about the circumstances surrounding the so-called accident. More to the point, there remained the puzzle of the fisherman he'd seen at the Old Bridge mere hours before Murray's death, the possible significance of which had, oddly enough, only just occurred to
him. He supposed it might well have been Sanders, although he had no reason to doubt the man's word. For all he knew, it could have been Murray himself. In any case, it was the only real lead so far. He made a mental note to mention it to Barrett.

He arrived at his beat and put up his rod. As he switched out some line, he searched the water for the subtle surface expressions of the quieter areas behind submerged boulders, over depressions in the riverbed, and at the boundary zone between faster and slower currents where salmon prefer to lie. Employing a double-Spey cast, he placed his fly twenty yards out and slightly downstream of his position. Emptying his mind of extraneous thoughts, he felt the hidden power of the current begin to pull the line around.

When Powell got back to the Salar Lodge later that afternoon, neither Barrett nor Warburton had yet returned. He left his prize—a chunky eight-pounder—in Nigel's charge, with the assurance that it would be prominently displayed in the front hall. Then he went up to his room and rang up Marion. He reported his catch to prepare the ground, as it were, and then, inviting sympathy, explained how he had become embroiled in the Murray case. He then told her how much he missed her, followed by one or two distinctly risqué suggestions. To Powell's considerable annoyance, Marion seemed so amused by his incurable meddling, as she put it, that she completely ignored his overtures. He protested weakly that he had agreed to get involved in the case only as a favor to Alex, but she was having none of it. Eventually he gave up and, having satisfied himself that neither of his sons had done anything in his absence to disgrace the family name, rang off.
After showering, he came down and settled himself in the bar to await further developments.

He was still nursing his first pint when Barrett charged in like a wounded elephant.

“Erskine?” he roared, blinking myopically until he had become accustomed to the attenuated light. “Ah, there you are.” He wore a steely smile of the type usually seen on runners-up in a beauty contest. “Nice fish,” he remarked dangerously. There followed a pregnant silence.

For once, Powell thought, the tables are turned. He savored the moment before replying casually, “Very kind of you to say so, Alex. I haven't had much time to fish, but as you, yourself, are always saying, skill and experience
will
prevail.”

“What were you using?” Barrett asked grudgingly.

“A Munro Killer on a wee double with a floating line. It seemed the obvious choice, considering the prevailing conditions of light and water.” Strategic pause. “And how was your afternoon?”

Barrett eyed Powell's beer. “That looks good,” he said.

Powell sighed. He should have known that it wouldn't last. There was no one in attendance at the bar so he drew two pints and chalked them up.

Barrett took a lengthy sip and smacked his lips appreciatively. He took another drink and seemed about to repeat the process, but Powell could stand it no longer.

“Well?”

“Well, what?” Barrett inquired innocently. Silence. “Oh, I see! I didn't think you'd wish to be bothered with the mundane details of a working man's day. You are, after all, on holiday.”

“Cut the crap, Alex.”

“Okay, okay.” He took one more quaff for good measure. “I've just had a most informative chat with Heather Murray. She's quite a lass, that one,” he added without elaborating. “I explained to her that we were treating her father's death as an accident, but as a matter of routine procedure we had to eliminate any other possibilities. I must say that she was very forthright. It seems that over the years her father had been engaged in a number of penny share schemes involving Canadian gold mining companies. Reading between the lines, I can only assume that some of these, em, enterprises were a bit dubious.”

“So I understand.” Powell related the details of his conversation with John Sanders.

“That is certainly consistent with Miss Murray's statement, although, not surprisingly, she didn't put it quite so bluntly. In any case, it seems that Charles Murray's enemies were legion. According to Miss Murray, he used to receive threatening telephone calls and letters on a fairly regular basis back in Canada from dissatisfied shareholders and the like. Mostly anonymous, of course.”

“Not very helpful, then.”

“Still, it's worth following up.” Barrett paused once again to wet his whistle. “And it just so happens,” he continued eventually, looking like the cat that just devoured the canary, “Murray had a visitor this past weekend.”

“Who?”

“A certain Oliver Pickens. He and Murray were old mates. In fact, Pickens used to work for Murray. Miss Murray was away for the weekend—in Pitlochry with a friend—but, according to the butler, Pickens arrived at Castle Glyn on Friday afternoon shortly after Miss Murray had departed. Furthermore, Miss Murray maintains
that neither Pickens nor her father were at Castle Glyn when she returned late Monday. She—”

“Er, I neglected to mention it earlier,” Powell interjected, “but I saw somebody fishing on the estate water, just above the Old Bridge, Monday evening around six o'clock. You didn't happen to see anybody when you were down there, did you?”

“Bloody hell!” Barrett exploded. “Why didn't you tell me this before?”

“Actually, its possible significance only just occurred to me this afternoon. I suppose I've had my mind on other things.” He added a trifle defensively, “Like enjoying my holiday.”

Barrett glowered. “I feel like a damned fool. I could have asked Ross about it.” He drained his glass with a prodigious gulp.

“Ross?”

“Murray's butler, Donald Ross.” He glared at Powell. “But first another drink—a real one this time.”

Powell went up to the bar and returned with two whiskies. Barrett nosed the glass and after his first lingering sip mellowed perceptibly. “Oh, aye, a hint of smoke with just the slightest undertone of melon. An excellent choice, Erskine.” He placed his glass on the table and leaned forward. “According to Ross, Pickens and Murray left Castle Glyn together shortly after one o'clock on Monday afternoon. Ross was given to understand that Murray was driving Pickens to Aviemore to put him on a train. He claims that he was given the evening off and never saw his master again. He says that he spent the night in Kinlochy with his mother, who must be an ancient bird indeed, since Ross, himself, is no spring chicken.” He picked up his
glass. “The curious thing is, when Ross returned to Castle Glyn the next morning, Murray's car was in its usual place in the garage. Unfortunately, the gardener-cum-handyman, one Jimmy Sinclair, is apparently a member of that dying breed, an employee with initiative. The first thing he did Tuesday morning when he reported to work was to wash and polish his employer's Mercedes. Force of habit, he told me. In any case the damn thing's as clean as a whistle inside and out, not a dab anywhere.”

“Interesting. What about the other domestics?”

“The housemaid, a Miss Morrow, confirms Ross's statement. She lives out in Dulnay Bridge. She says she left Castle Glyn at four o'clock on Monday afternoon, her usual time, and it was Sinclair's regular day off.”

“So it seems there was nobody around at the critical time. Coincidence?”

Barrett shrugged. “I get the impression that Murray ran a rather informal household. Did all the cooking himself and, according to Miss Murray, would often dismiss the staff on a whim. Apparently he didn't feel comfortable with domestics around the place and preferred to rattle around on his own.”

“Besides Pickens, have there been any other visitors to Castle Glyn recently?”

“Some reporter was caught snooping around last week, trying to get an interview with Murray.”

“What about yesterday?”

“Funny you should ask. According to Ross, Ruby paid a visit early yesterday afternoon and then Nigel turned up rather late in the evening. To offer their condolences, presumably. Though I wonder,” he mused, “why they didn't call together.”

Powell leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He felt a pleasant sense of warmth radiating from the center of his being to his farthest extremities. Rather like some sort of transcendental experience, he imagined, or, more likely, it was the malt beginning to do its benign work. Eventually he spoke, “I assume that you've put the word out on Pickens?”

Barrett nodded. “It shouldn't take too long to find him.” He cleared his throat self-consciously. “I've, em, been thinking, Erskine, there's really not much more I can do here at present. I think it might be best if I were to return to Inverness for a few days to do a bit of checking into Murray's background. You could carry on here until I get back,” he added with studied nonchalance.

Powell was wary. “Do as you like. I suppose you feel lost without that damned computer of yours.”

Barrett smiled broadly. “One of these days, Erskine, you'll realize that the information highway is the way of the future for the modern policeman.”

Powell sighed. “God help us, then.” He had a sneaking hunch that Charles Murray wasn't the only subject that Barrett planned to delve into while away in the big city; he had managed to glean from his sources that the Scot had a keen appetite for the lassies.

“Seriously, Erskine, I do appreciate your help and if there's anything I can do, anything at all …”

Powell brightened, then drained his glass with a flourish. “Very kind of you to offer, Alex. I think a wee splash of the Cragganmore would do nicely. For starters.”

Under the circumstances, Barrett was more than happy to oblige.

CHAPTER 6

Powell took advantage of the hiatus afforded by Barrett's departure and spent the next day fishing with Pinky. He suspected that it might be the last chance he would get for a while. And besides, a salmon or two in Barrett's absence would serve him right; more important, it would set the right psychological tone for the eventual resumption of their fishing match. They flogged the water hard all day and, although conditions seemed near perfect, neither man touched a fish. Not a good omen, Powell concluded uneasily, always one to read the entrails of everyday events.

The following morning the report from the forensic pathologist in Inverness was delivered by PC Shand. Powell leafed through the slim typewritten document until he found what he was looking for. The results of the diatom test were positive, indicating that Charles Murray had died by drowning. “So it is murder after all,” he said, feeling curiously energized.

“Well, sir, it seems a reasonable enough conclusion,” PC Shand agreed tentatively. “But isn't there a more
straightforward explanation?” Mr. Powell wasn't officially assigned the case, Shand thought by way of rationalization, so it wasn't as if he were questioning a superior's judgment; it was more like a friendly chat between colleagues, a prospect he found exhilarating.

“Go on,” said Powell, rather enjoying himself as well.

“Well, sir, we know that Murray had been drinking on the night in question. Perhaps he had an accident, or maybe he decided to end it all and jump off a bridge.”

Powell leaned back in his chair. “Taking the possibility of an accident first,” he began comfortably, “let us assume for the sake of argument that Charles Murray had some reason to be out walking alone by the river in the rain that night. How might he have come to grief? Perhaps he simply fell and struck his head, an unfortunate mishap as you suggest. The forensic evidence does indicate that he received a blow to the back of the head sufficient to render him unconscious. So far so good. But one would normally expect a person falling backward as a result of his feet slipping out from under him to land hard on his arse or back. And one wouldn't be at all surprised if he were to injure an elbow or a wrist while attempting to break the fall. It is in fact difficult to conceive how he could strike his head by falling, as hard as Murray was struck, without sustaining other minor scrapes and bruises in the process. Yet, according to Dr. Campbell, the contusion on the back of the head was the only visible injury occurring prior to death.”

BOOK: Malice in the Highlands
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