Read The Road to Hell Online

Authors: Gillian Galbraith

The Road to Hell

BOOK: The Road to Hell
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T
HE
R
OAD TO
H
ELL

 

First published in 2012 by Polygon,
an imprint of Birlinn Ltd
West Newington House
10 Newington Road
Edinburgh
EH9 1QS

www.polygonbooks.co.uk

Copyright © Gillian Galbraith 2012

ISBN 978 1 84697 225 6
eBook ISBN 978 0 85790 176 7

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.

 

A
CKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Maureen Allison

Colin Browning

Douglas Edington

Lesmoir Edington

Robert Galbraith

Daisy Galbraith

Diana Griffiths

Christine Johnson (Bethany Christian Trust)

Jinty Kerr

Alan Montgomery

Roger Orr

Aidan O’Neill

Dr David Sadler

 

D
EDICATION

To Hamish, with all my love

Contents

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

 
1

The middle-aged woman in the poorly-fitting yellow anorak was twisting the ring on her finger, first one way and then the other, all the while trying to slide it over the
enlarged, inflamed middle joint. She appeared not to notice the queue of people growing behind her. Now bowing her head and starting to lick her finger with her tongue in an attempt to ease it, she
muttered to the assistant, ‘Got any soap, dear?’

The embarrassed girl, dressed all in black, shook her head, then peered up from beneath her straw-coloured, floppy fringe, eyeing the line of increasingly restive customers with concern. Looking
at them, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, rocking nervously from side to side. After a further minute had passed without any progress, she asked, pleadingly, ‘Maybe we could
get on with things, while you’re getting the ring off? Have you got the paperwork with you? Your passport, your driving licence?’

‘Eh?’ the woman snapped irritably, concentration broken on her all-engrossing task. A bubble of spit glistened on her lower lip.

‘Your passport? Your driving licence?’ the assistant repeated, tapping her finger on a yellowing, typed notice that was pinned to the wall detailing what was required of sellers.
‘Like what it says here.’

‘I’ve no passport, I’ve no need of one. And I don’t drive either.’

‘A household bill, maybe . . . electric, gas, something like that? That would do instead. Everybody has them.’

‘Not this body, dear. I’ve not got any of them with me. But it’s gold all right, if that’s what’s worrying you. It’s my wedding band.’ Then, giving
herself a rest from the strenuous removal attempt and sounding wheezy and out of breath, she added, ‘It had bloody better be anyway. Archie gave it me. You can bite it or whatever you do,
check it with your teeth like the gypsies. But you’ll need to wait until I’ve got it off my finger.’ She removed her chewing gum and smiled winningly at the girl as if to charm
her into submission.

‘I’m sorry but we can’t take it,’ the assistant replied, shaking her head, ‘not without the proper documentation.’

‘Bingo!’ said the woman, beaming even more broadly, holding the ring triumphantly between the still sticky thumb and forefinger of her right hand, and thrusting it at the
assistant.

The girl shook her head again, mulishly, and as she did so, the lank curtain of her hair swung from side to side across her eyes. ‘No documents, no sale. That’s the rule in all Money
Maker stores.’

The middle-aged woman, now chewing her gum again, appeared unabashed by her refusal and continued polishing the ring on the sleeve of her yellow anorak. In fact, seeing the girl’s
implacable expression and determined to get her way, she decided it would be wise to change tack. If charm was not to going to win the day then coercion would have to be used.

‘Listen, dear,’ she said, moving forwards and brandishing the ring in the girl’s face, ‘you’ve a big sign outside saying “All gold wanted – good prices
paid”. Is my gold not good enough for you, then?’ Both of her fists were now parked on her well-padded hips and her feet were set wide apart, like a boxer readying himself for a fight.
After wrestling with the ring for the last five minutes she had no intention of giving up now. Immoveable, she looked round at the queue of people behind her, suppressing a smirk as she recognised
them for what they were, her unwilling allies. Few could resist the silent pressure that they were unwittingly exerting, certainly not this stick-thin teenager. A puff of wind and she would drift
skywards.

‘I’d like the money today, dear, and this is gold. Right? Got that? Your sign outside says nothing about paperwork. Gold is gold, OK?’

The girl pressed a button on her counter to summon assistance but no ringing sound came from it. She tried again, pressing harder but only eliciting a faint clicking noise for her pains.

‘Shit!’ she murmured to herself, looking down at the button and hitting it crossly one final time. In doing so she hurt her knuckles, and started rubbing them against her
shoulder.

‘Your alarm button not working then? Now, my gold?’ the woman said quietly, between chews. ‘There are lots of people waiting, dear. They’ll be getting awfully impatient,
you know, some of them may just walk out . . .’

‘Eric! Eric!’ implored the flustered girl, waving to attract a male assistant’s attention. ‘I’m needing some help over here.’

At her words, the youth put down his orange duster and moved away from the bank of widescreen plasma TVs that he had been standing beside and watching. He, too, wore only black clothing. He was
heavily built and walked with the muscle-bound, wide-legged gait of a professional bruiser. All the TV screens around him showed the same picture. A blonde woman in a leotard sat on an exercise
bicycle, pedalling effortlessly while smiling inanely at the camera. Any accompanying sales spiel was lost as the sound was turned off.

‘I’ll attend to you, flower,’ he said coming up to the woman and cupping her elbow with his meaty hand, attempting to waltz her slowly towards another empty counter.

‘Get your mitts off me, son, or you’ll hear my alarm button go off all right, just you wait and see. I’ll shout the place down.’ She disentangled herself from his
grasp.

‘OK, OK. But if you’ll not move we’ll have to get help – police help,’ he said in a hushed tone, looking into her face, taking his mobile from his pocket and
crooking an index finger above the keypad. Realising she had been outmanoeuvred, she turned her back on him and strutted out of the queue, keeping her chin held high in an attempt to preserve the
shreds of her dignity. There were other places, after all, plenty of them less finicky with their paperwork than this one, less choosy when gold was on offer. Grasping the handle of one of the
double glass doors, she toyed momentarily with the idea, the luxury, of threatening them with the trading standards people. But it would be an empty threat and only annoy them further, which would
be pointless.

Three hours later, in the same Money Maker store, DS Alice Rice looked up at the CCTV camera pointing directly at her and took her place at the head of the queue. The reflection
staring back at her in the lens was as distorted as that on the back of a spoon, splaying out her nose and making her eyes appear small and piglike. She looked more like fifty than forty, she
thought, and her dark hair appeared to be framing an entirely unfamiliar face.

‘I’ve come for the notebook laptop,’ she said to the lank-haired girl.

‘We’ve a few of them in here at the moment. We’ve got an Apple, a Sony and a Toshiba, too, I think. But you’ll need to go to that counter, over there, if you’re
buying.’ She pointed to the far end of the shop. Stacked by the counter were turntables, battered cardboard boxes overflowing with DVDs and an army of upright Dyson vacuum cleaners.

Crossing the floor and stepping over the open boxes, Alice Rice addressed another black-clothed clone. ‘The notebook laptop, please. Donny was going to phone you about it earlier, he said.
I’ve come to collect it.’

‘You from SART, then?’ the man asked. ‘Donny told us you’d be here by eleven. Eleven on the dot.’ He sounded annoyed. Glancing at his watch to emphasise that the
time had long since passed, he bent down and removed a smallish box from below his counter. Still frowning, and consulting the watch again to further underline his point, he handed the package over
to the plain-clothed policewoman.

She wondered why he was so bothered about the time. He was not exactly run off his feet, she was his only customer. What possible difference could that half hour have made to him? The jerk. All
the same, she was relieved that he had known exactly what she was supposed to be collecting. No one in the SART office had told her the make of the notebook they were after.

Once it was safely stored in her carrier bag, she decided to waste a few more minutes having a look around the store. Time had to be killed this morning and here was as good a place as any to do
it in. The shop was warm, and browsing its contents might distract her, repel the repetitive thoughts which were constantly trying to invade her brain. It might, briefly, obliterate her obsession
with her two o’clock appointment, her forthcoming tribunal hearing. Her very own, and imminent, personal disciplinary case.

As she wandered about the shop, she was struck by its resemblance to a wholesale outlet, but it seemed a strange, sinister variant of the species. Goods were piled high on all the available
floor space, the walls were hung with them and not an inch of unused shelving was visible. But despite the bright strip-lighting, crisp decoration and the superabundance of merchandise, the place
reeked of poverty and desperation. The assistants drifting about reminded her of undertakers in their black clothes, circulating within a Chapel of Rest. They spoke to everyone in hushed tones and
their customers replied in the same way, as if they were embarrassed to find themselves in such a place. The body-language of the patrons conveyed one message and one message alone, that they were
‘just looking’. They were not here to buy, and certainly not to sell.

In the absence of any apparent trade, it seemed a miracle the business survived at all, she thought. But a notice on the wall boasted that branches of the chain were to open from the Forth to
the Clyde. Money Maker appeared to be flourishing in the ailing towns of the Central Belt like some kind of fungus living off a dying tree. According to the advertisement, its spores were soon to
take root in the cold, grey streets of Kirkcaldy and on a disused lot by the dog-racing track in Thornton.

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