Authors: Gillian Galbraith
First published in 2014 by Polygon,
an imprint of Birlinn Ltd
West Newington House
10 Newington Road
Copyright Â© Gillian Galbraith 2014
ISBN 978 1 84697 279 9
eBook ISBN 978 0 85790 785 1
The moral right of Gillian Galbraith to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Design by Studio Monachino
Set in Sabon at Birlinn Ltd
Printed and bound in Great Britain
Dr David Sadler
An old friend from my childhood
To my beloved mother
with all my love
It did not look like the Book of Judgement. All three men were listed on its faded, blue-lined pages, their names written in an identical hand. Scratched out below each name was a litany of obsolete addresses, multi-coloured biro entries, and with only the current one left intact. Their crimes were described too. Someone had taken the trouble to track their movements for years and years, to follow their progress from county to county, country to country.
The one at the top of page 20 was a retired casino owner with a liking for Cuban cigars. In February 2013 he was murdered in his home, a tree-lined avenue in the prosperous Edinburgh suburb of Colinton. Page 26 recorded an impoverished widower, then living by the foam-flecked shores of the Forth with only his Bichon Frise for company. He met a similar end less than a month later. The third man, described on page 30, a habituÃ© of his local bowling club, bled to death on his bathroom floor to the lush sound of Ella Fitzgerald's âThat Old Black Magic'. All of the victims were pensioners, died from knife wounds, and their last words, which sounded like a prayer, incensed their killer. None of them knew each other, or their attacker. Despite their deaths, no one amended their entries, deleted their names from the book.
This one he would not spit out either. If the man then attempting to focus his blue eyes on the bottle's label had ever been asked what his passion in life was, he would have replied âfine wines'. He might have been tempted to say, âfighting injustice', âfeeding the starving' or even âwind-surfing'. Any one of those would have sounded, he considered, seemlier, worthier and less sybaritic. But, unfortunately, also untrue. Beekeeping was, genuinely, close to his heart, but hardly deserved to be described as a passion, in his estimation at least.
That evening, he was indulging himself by carrying out a little research into the wines of the Bordeaux region. His cat, Satan, lay on his lap. He sniffed the contents of the next glass, tipped it towards his lips and took a deep draught. What flavours were now swirling upon his tongue? Blackcurrant with a hint of saddle leather, or was it aniseed, perhaps, or liquorice or celery even? Rolling the last drops purposefully around his mouth, he savoured them and held them there for a few seconds, saturating his taste-buds.
Once, he mused, he really had possessed a nose for fine wines, could truthfully have called himself a connoisseur. But the gaining of such erudition was an expensive business, ill-fitted to those, like him, with shallow pockets. Nowadays, he had to make do. In his twenties, in the brief period when he had been a sharp-suited criminal
defence lawyer, only the best had passed his tonsils. Of course, in those far-off days his own nose was little more than a button, not the crooked protuberance which now dominated his face and made him blink every time he accidentally caught his own reflection in the mirror. And all thanks to the unexpected rebound of a hammer held in his own careless hand. Worse, of late, the misshapen thing seemed to have found its mission in life, betraying him by periodically flushing fiery-red like a beacon, as if to warn the world of his weakness for drink. But was weakness the right word? Fondness would be more accurate. Less Calvinistic, certainly, and that had to be a good thing. Whichever it was, he need not worry yet, he reassured himself, he had a long way to go before reaching the bottom. After all, neither Blue Nun nor Buckfast Tonic Wine had passed his lips so far.
Catching sight of the TV remote on the floor, he leaned forwards in his armchair to get it, forgetting about the cat and making it mew in surprise as, for a second, it was crushed between his chest and his lap. Stroking it by way of apology, he leaned back again, catching, out of the corner of his eye, sight of his desk. A pile of unanswered correspondence, bills and catalogues lay on top of his computer. They seemed like a rebuke. Deliberately averting his eyes, he pressed the âon' button and the TV sprang to life. At this late hour,
would probably be showing.
But it was not Stephen Fry's horse-like face that greeted him. On the screen two scantily clad black women were rotating their hips, shimmying together with their heads thrown back, dancing in unison to some silent beat.
Gazing at them, enchanted, he marvelled at their extraordinary beauty. They seemed like fit young panthers, sleek and lithe, each synchronised to the other as perfectly as a shadow. Once their routine had finished and they were taking their bows, he increased the volume and caught the audience's riotous applause, an occasional wolf-whistle cutting through the excited clapping.
Forgetting all about the quiz, still spellbound by the sight of the pair, he watched as the next contestant trooped shyly onto the stage. Liking the look of her, and to get the best possible view, he put the cat on the sofa beside him, perched on the edge of his seat and hastily clapped on his spectacles. She too appeared to manage without any unnecessary clothing, necessary clothing even, and must, from the look of her, surely be a professional dancer? No shop assistant could move like that. No one behind any of the counters in Kinross or Milnathort, more's the pity. But, if she truly was an amateur, then this time his vote might genuinely make a difference. It could âchange her life' as the commentator observed. No doubt it would cheer up her fiancÃ©, allegedly bedbound at the moment â make him pick up his bed and walk, quite possibly.
Hurriedly, he looked on the nearby table for a pen, determined to note the number for her as soon as it appeared on the screen. As he was busily scribbling it down, his mobile rang, but he continued writing, trying to ignore it. After the first few rings each subsequent one seemed to penetrate his skull like a drill, maddening him and distracting him from his task. Finally, having missed the last two digits, he tossed his pen onto the table in frustration.
Ten calls in one evening? Surely to God, everyone, every single person without exception, was entitled to some time off, some time to themselves, to eat their food and digest it, if nothing else? Mobiles were a curse. No one should be perpetually on duty, and he had been on his feet for over fifteen hours already. Feeling drained, exhausted by the efforts of the day and his own anger, he looked back at the screen again, and, at that precise moment, the phone rang once more. This time he snatched it up, clamped it to his good ear and said through gritted teeth: âFather Vincent Ross.'
Unable to make out the faint-voiced reply above the thump-thumping beat of the dance music, he added, âOne second, please.' So saying, he turned the volume on the set down and started to speak again, already feeling calmer and more collected in the silence.
âNow, what can I help you with?'
âIt's me, Father, Mamie.'
He rolled his clear blue eyes heavenwards. She had already called twice earlier, that very evening. But he made an effort to keep the impatience he could feel rising within him from his voice and replied: âGood evening, Mamie. What seems to be the trouble now?'
His enquiry was met by an extended silence so, smiling, telling himself to put more warmth into his tone, he repeated the question. After a few further seconds of silence his effort was rewarded and his caller deigned to reply, âIt's John, Father.'
âI'm having a problem. He's pressing for Nevaeh again.'
âHeaven backwards. I ask you, what kind of name is that?'
âWas it you calling a second ago, Mamie?'
âI see. Well, we've spoken about this before, haven't we? This very evening. About John, I mean.'
âWe have, Father â¦' She hesitated, not completely impervious to the suggestion of annoyance that had leaked into his tone despite his best efforts. âWe have. Yes. But he'll still not come round.'
âWell, it could be worse. He could be pushing for Lleh â Hell backwards â or BeyoncÃ© or something. You've some weeks to the birth. He might yet settle for Bridget â or Uncumber, which is a saint's name, as you are wanting â¦'
âI know, I know.' She hesitated. âUncumber? But if you were to speak to him about it, Father?'
âBut I have, Mamie, too many times â¦' For a second his attention lapsed, catching his breath at the sight of another dancer. Her boneless body was as sinuous as a snake's, and she appeared to be simulating some kind of limbo dance. When, finally, the camera panned onto the grinning faces of the judges, the spell was broken and he managed to finish his sentence: ââ¦ and I've failed, I'm afraid. How do you know it's a girl?'
âA woman knows these things, Father.'
âWas there anything else tonight, Mamie?'
This was her cue, and a torrent of words came tumbling out, disclosing the real reason for her call.
âAbout the brass candlesticks, I don't see why I should
do them again this Friday, or the big chandelier. I only done them on Tuesday last and then only because Ann-Marie â¦'
âI'll stop you right there,' said Vincent. âThe candlesticks have nothing to do with me. You know that, Mamie. Speak to Veronica, she's in charge of the Light Brigade. Now, if that's all I'll say goodnight to you â¦'
He paused for a split second, murmured âGoodnight', waited for her echo and switched off his mobile. With her on their side the rebel angels would have triumphed, he thought, because she never gave up. He smiled, a vision of the pregnant woman in breastplate and armour brandishing an aerosol, flitting into his mind from nowhere. She would have to change her name though; Mamie did not really inspire awe in the same way as Lucifer, Azazel, Lilith, Moloch and the like did.