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Authors: Gillian Galbraith

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‘Is this where you usually run? Were you here yesterday too?’

‘No. I come to this place about once, maybe twice a week at the most, but not where she was. I don’t like it up there. Young lads go and light fires there, shoot themselves up, spray
graffiti on to the rocks. I went there once before, last winter, and a couple of the wee bastards showered me with stones. I’ve not been up since.’

DI Eric Manson dropped the evening newspaper on to his desk and then, as if in pique, scrunched it up into a ball and flung it into the wastepaper basket.

‘Irresponsible shite,’ he muttered to himself, standing up and stretching, raising his arms high above his head and taking a long, dog-like yawn.

‘At least you knew he’d done it, Sir. Told the papers, I mean. It didn’t come as a complete surprise, as a bolt from the blue you might say,’ DC Elizabeth Cairns
remarked, putting down the phone, leaning back in her chair and taking a sip from her mug of tea.

‘And your point is?’ the Inspector asked. His hands were now clamped to the back of his head and, as he stretched again, his shirt came adrift from the waistband of his trousers,
revealing a sliver of hairy flesh.

‘Well, it reduced the shock value, I suppose,’ the Constable said brightly, pushing her gold-rimmed spectacles up the bridge of her nose and smiling at him.

‘And you, what exactly have you found out, Defective – sorry, Detective – Constable? What do you know?’

Feeling now that she had somehow inadvertently edged herself into the limelight, the policewoman sat up straight, trying to look alert, and said, ‘That description, Sir, the one we
circulated, it hasn’t produced any response yet. Not a proper one at least. Someone I know in Torphichen Street thought they’d recognised it and gave me a name. But I checked it out and
I’m quite sure it’s not her. It turned out to be a hooker down Leith way, someone called Michelle Vincent? But she’s still alive and kicking. In fact, she’s up in the
Sheriff Court today for another breach of the peace.’

‘Michelle Vincent?’ DC Galloway said, looking up from his computer and laughing. ‘It’ll not be her for sure. I could have told you that, if you’d asked me.
She’s a bottle blonde, sometimes a redhead, been a purple head in her time, even. She’ll not go grey until she’s nailed into her box and six foot under.’

The door to the Murder Suite opened and Alice Rice came in, shedding her coat as she walked and rubbing her hands together, trying to restore life to her cold, numb fingers.

‘What news from the outside world?’ Eric Manson asked, seated once more at his desk and looking at her expectantly.

‘About the dead woman? Well, she wasn’t lying in the bushes yesterday afternoon, it seems. I spoke to a couple of dog-walkers, regulars in the Hermitage, and they were there at about
3 p.m. and saw nothing. They let their dogs off the lead near where she was found, and if she’d been there I reckon they’d have found her, wouldn’t they? Sniffed her out. The
dogs, I mean. I described her to the walkers and neither of them recognised her from my description, and no one DC Stark’s spoken to did either. He’s drawn a complete blank with the
other dog-walkers and the cyclists too. One jogger remembered seeing her yesterday and then his companion reminded him that they hadn’t been jogging in the place yesterday. He struck me as a
bit of an attention-seeker anyway, thrilled to have a bit part in the drama, volunteering to come into the station and assist us with our inquiries. A time-waster, really.’

‘That’s it?’

‘Pretty well,’ she nodded. ‘Someone claimed to have seen a man in a yellow anorak out for a walk yesterday, but I don’t think that can have been her. She didn’t
look like a man, did she? Not with her long grey hair and her red sandals. Yellow’s a colour not often worn by men, but it can’t have been her, can it?’

‘No,’ DC Cairns said, wrinkling her nose, adding a few seconds later, ‘men don’t look good in yellow – none of the ones I know, anyway.’

The Inspector, seeing that Alice was about to take a seat, added, ‘I wouldn’t sit down if I were you, Alice.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because you’re straight off and out again, and you can take DC Cairns with you.’

‘Where am I off to?’ Alice asked evenly, her suspicions already aroused.

‘Guess? You can phone a friend if you like . . .’

‘To the bloody Cowgate.’

‘Exactly. The post mortem has been scheduled for 4 p.m. I’ve a meeting with the DCI and Superintendent Bruce then, so you’ll have to go instead of me.’

‘But what’s the point? We don’t know anything about the woman yet. Wouldn’t it be better to wait until we at least know who she is? Reschedule it? If we knew who she was
it might explain what she was doing in the park. If the pathologists need a history, and they always do, we can’t give them one this time. Couldn’t it wait a few days?’

‘4 p.m., Alice. Anyway, once they’ve got their cleavers out, perhaps they’ll be able to give us something for a change. I don’t suppose that crossed your mind?’

‘What? A bout of vomiting, from all their repulsive smells?’ Alice said truculently, bowing to the inevitable with ill grace and collecting her coat.

 
5

‘Female, Caucasian . . .’ Professor McConnachie said, speaking into his hand-held Dictaphone, bending over the naked corpse and adding, ‘age – late
fifties, early sixties, something like that. Long, frizzy grey hair, shoulder length . . . detritus in the hair consisting of leaves and twigs.’ He stopped for a moment, pressed the
record
button on his Dictaphone once more and then looked beadily at the machine.

‘Forget to press the right button, Prof?’ the mortuary technician asked.

‘No, but there’s no red light going on, Brian,’ he said, gazing at the small man and holding the machine out towards him.

‘Bust, is it then?’ Brian asked unconcernedly, in his Liverpudlian accent, making no attempt to take the Dictaphone from the outstretched hand.

‘No,’ Professor McConnachie said patiently. ‘Not bust, Brian. It has no battery left. No juice. Could you get me another one, please?’

‘’Fraid not, Prof. We’ve no batteries left in the drawer. I’ve ordered more but they’re not likely to arrive for a couple of days.’

‘A Dictaphone?’

‘Yes, it’s a Dictaphone,’ Brian answered, sounding slightly aggrieved, annoyed that his intelligence was being questioned.

‘Another Dictaphone? Perhaps you could see if you could get me another Dictaphone, then?’

‘Oh. Right you are,’ the technician replied, putting down the cloth that he’d been using to wipe the corpse’s knees, taking the machine and disappearing through a
door.

‘So, Alice,’ the Professor said, ‘can you tell me anything about this woman? I spoke to Eric earlier, but at that stage he knew nothing.’

She shook her head. ‘We’ve been asking all over the place, but so far we haven’t turned up a thing about her. She’s a complete mystery. We’re hoping that you may be
able to help us this time.’

‘So she’s a dead-end, then,’ the technician said, laughing to himself as he handed the Professor a new Dictaphone. He returned to his wiping with renewed vigour.

‘Blue eyes,’ the Professor said, opening one of the woman’s eyelids with his gloved fingers. He leant over her head and added, ‘A haematoma . . . say, five centimetres
long by five wide, extending from the hairline down the right temple.’

DC Cairns sidled up to the Professor to get a proper look, and as she was craning over the corpse her head almost banged into his balding skull. He gave her a warning look.

‘Remains of a strawberry nevus on the right cheek,’ he continued.

‘Where?’ she asked, undeterred by his forbidding expression.

‘There – on the cheekbone,’ he said, pointing at a small, reddish mark in the shape of a starfish. ‘Seen it? OK for me to go on?’ he added sarcastically, but as if
it was a straight question the DC nodded her head.

His mouth close to the Dictaphone, he pressed on. ‘Animal damage to the angle of the mouth, on the right, and to the right earlobe.’

‘The stoat?’ Alice interrupted him.

‘Could well be. That or a rat, I would hazard, from the small bore of the teeth. Rats would always be at the top of my list.’

Picking up the woman’s right arm and then moving on to inspect her left, he continued, ‘Abrasions on the posterior surfaces of both forearms . . .’

‘She’s been crawling, pulling herself along on ’em, I reckon,’ the technician observed.

Throwing the man a glance to silence him, the Professor carried on with his dictation. ‘Abrasions on the anterior of both kneecaps and on the dorsal surfaces of both feet. A significant
degree of livor-mortis down the back to the thighs . . . with contact pallor on the buttocks and shoulder blades.’

Bending over, he examined the woman’s abdomen and said, as if to himself, ‘An old surgical scar, maybe six inches wide, probably as a result of a Caesarean section.’

DC Cairns nodded her head and reiterated, ‘Yes, a Caesarean section,’ as if she was confirming his opinion. The Professor stopped his dictation for a moment, annoyed, and looked
crossly at her. But, as before, she appeared unconcerned by his reaction.

‘You’ve had one, have you, Constable?’ he said.

‘No,’ she replied artlessly.

He shook his head, astounded by the apparent thickness of her skin.

‘No signs of injury to the external genitalia or to the breast or thigh areas,’ he continued, then he tapped the technician on the shoulder and said, ‘swabs, please,
Brian.’

Once the swabs had been brought, he made an announcement to those assembled around the body: ‘Everyone got everything they need? Photos, jewellery, measurements and so on? Because
I’m ready to open her up.’

Acknowledging their nods with one of his own, he said in an American accent and as if he was in a cheap drama, ‘OK, I’m going in!’

So saying, he made a large T-shaped incision on the woman’s body, extending from her shoulder tips to her pubic bone. Once it was complete, he wiped his brow with the back of his gloved
hand. The bloody scalpel was still clasped in it. As the intestines were being removed the smell in the room became overpowering, and Alice looked over at the Constable to see how she was faring.
But she was absorbed, watching the Professor’s every move, seemingly quite untroubled by the noxious stench around her. He seemed finally to have warmed to her, won over by the deep interest
she was showing in the proceedings, and he even began addressing some of his remarks to her.

‘My, my . . . that does tell us something,’ he said, smiling at her and pointing a gloved finger at an organ, now exposed, within the body cavity.

‘What is it?’

‘Her liver. If you put the state of it together with her fairly emaciated condition, I reckon that she must have been a pretty heavy drinker. Look at it – grossly enlarged –
and lots of fatty changes too.’

After examining the lungs and the heart, the pathologist then removed the stomach from the collection of extruded innards, emptied it of its contents and cut into it to inspect its inner
surface.

‘What are you doing now?’

‘Give me a second,’ he sighed, then murmured again into his machine. ‘Examination of the stomach lining revealed the presence of Wischnewski ulcers.’

‘What did you say?’ DC Cairns asked, determined not to miss anything.

‘Wischnewski ulcers.’

‘My dad’s got ulcers,’ DC Cairns exclaimed excitedly, craning over to get a better look.

‘Not like these ones, he won’t,’ the Professor said, looking at her. ‘They only appear when someone’s become hypothermic. They’re a characteristic finding in
cases of hypothermia.’

As the dead woman’s skin was being peeled from her face by the technician, Alice looked away. She then set herself an impossible task. To conjure up in her imagination a pebbled beach with
low, translucent waves crashing onto it and simultaneously to try to take in the significance of anything said by the Professor. She heard the words ‘subdural blood’ and forced herself
to look at him, deliberately avoiding any sight of the flayed face. Catching her expression of complete incomprehension, he added, ‘There’s blood under the dura – blood on the
surface of the brain, if you will, only apparent at post mortem.’

DC Cairns nodded sagely.

‘She had a bruise on her right temple,’ Alice said. ‘I saw it. It was highly visible. You mentioned it earlier too.’

‘I did, but that was an old one, fairly superficial too. This is on the other side, the left side, and it . . .’ he hesitated before speaking into his Dictaphone again, ‘is
about four by six centimetres in diameter.’

He pulled on the woman’s neck in order to tip her skull over and drain the blood from it into a measuring vessel.

‘Mmm,’ he said, holding it up, ‘about 75 to 100 millilitres of blood. From its appearance it looks quite fresh as well. That could well be the fatal injury.’

Once the procedure was completed, the Professor removed his mask and helped himself to a drink of water.

‘What do you think, Prof?’ Alice asked him.

‘I am still cogitating . . . trying to put everything together in my mind. The external findings don’t suggest that she’d been raped. No marks of violence in the genital area.
We’ll have to wait for the results from the swabs, combings and so on, but if she was raped, it doesn’t look as if brute force was used to overpower her. Could have been the threat of a
knife, I suppose. The ulcers tell us that she was hypothermic and she seems to have had a fatal, or possibly near-fatal, subdural haemorrhage. Oh, and I’m pretty certain she was an alcoholic.
Again, we’ll need to wait for the results from the blood, urine and vitreous humour, but I’d bet my own money on it, just looking at that liver.’

BOOK: The Road to Hell
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