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Authors: Gillian Galbraith

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BOOK: The Road to Hell
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‘Are you after anything special?’ an assistant, who had glided silently to her side, asked her in a sibilant undertone.

‘Just looking, thanks,’ she caught herself whispering in return. After he had moved away, she turned her attention to the rear of the shop. High up on a wall hung a selection of
crossed fishing rods and nets, and stacked immediately below them were a row of golf bags, shiny clubs protruding from each of them. On shelving to one side was a display of power tools, some in
mint condition, but others mud-spattered and worn, as if plucked, still buzzing, from their building sites only minutes earlier. Nothing tempted her.

A customer coming in through the swing doors set a couple of tiny handwritten tickets on a nearby alarm clock fluttering in the artificial breeze, like the wings of a frantic insect. Catching
sight in the distance of a silver-plated saxophone displayed against the blue silk lining of its case, Alice wandered over towards it, attracted by the beauty of its sinuous shape. Gazing at it,
she felt an overwhelming urge to possess it. Maybe Ian would like to draw it, or even learn to play it? Of course, other lips, strangers’ lips, would have blown into it, dribbled into it, and
that might well put him off. Besides, the price of ninety-five pounds seemed steep, and money might be tight if the worst happened this afternoon. He might think she had chosen it with herself in
mind, despite it being ostensibly a present for him? He would be right, and he could, and would, see right through her. But, with its fine filigree engravings it was a wondrous object. The sort of
thing that would be appreciated by anybody, surely?

While she was still mulling things over, trying to talk herself out of buying it, a man joined her, also intent upon inspecting the musical instruments section. He smelt strongly of stale curry,
and in his left hand he held a stick, on which he leant heavily. Hobbling past her, he came to a halt before a stand on which seven electric guitars were propped up. Humming to himself, he began
slyly inspecting the instruments and their price tickets. As he bent over to examine one, he lost his balance and toppled into a large pile of treadmills and dumbbells stationed at the base of the

‘Feck!’ he shouted, lying spreadeagled on the floor. Instantly, a pair of assistants appeared from nowhere. Yanking him up, one of them hissed at him, ‘Forget it, Paddy.
You’re not getting it back unless we get the cash.’

The other stood in front of the guitars, his arms crossed, deliberately blocking the man’s view with his body.

‘I just need it the one night, boys,’ the man pleaded. ‘I’ve a gig booked in Ratho. I could give you the money after it’s over and I’m paid.’

Alice decided that she had seen enough. Ian would not thank her for the saxophone. Like the rest of the items in the place, it would carry with it its story of shattered dreams, hobbies
abandoned, jobs lost, mortgage payments now in the red. Almost every article was a tangible reminder of human misery or folly, including the saxophone, and that thought would certainly put him off.
Her, too, thinking about it dispassionately.

And, of course, a fair few of the things there told a different story, as the SART boys knew only too well: one of housebreaking and heroin. Camouflaged among the once-treasured possessions were
a mass of stolen goods.

Having had her fill of the place she walked towards the door. Next to the entrance were a couple of locked cabinets, both filled with an assortment of highly-polished jewellery, calculators and
mobile phones. For a second, sunlight glinted off a golden bangle, the reflection temporarily blinding her. Another reflection danced on the pavement below, a third flitted about on a leather
jacket worn by a passer-by. The cabinets, she noticed, had been angled artfully by the management, arranged to attract those outside the shop into it, acting as lures to draw them in like fish into
a trap.

‘Sure there’s nothing I can help you with?’ It was the same lisping male assistant as before. He smiled at her, as if to persuade her to come back inside. Behind him she could
see Paddy being frogmarched to the exit, his stick waving uselessly in the air like the leg of an upended insect.

‘No thanks . . . I’ve just been looking,’ she said.

On Leith Walk, Alice headed southwards, trying to look into each of the dusty, old-fashioned shop fronts as she dawdled past them. She knew that if she allowed her mind to
drift, she would find herself rehearsing her evidence again, answering questions which might never be posed, justifying herself to herself like a mad woman. How the hell had she got herself into a
situation like this?

Suppressing her inner dialogue, she stared into the shop windows. To her eyes, they seemed anachronistic, a collection of fossils from an older, slower world of commerce, an age untouched by
computer technology and internet shopping. There was an old-fashioned barber’s shop complete with striped pole, a tattoo parlour with its proprietor’s name dripping in blood-red
letters, and cheek by jowl with it, a secondhand bookshop. Leith’s glory days were long since over. A few of its street names, Baltic Street and Madeira Place, hinted at its romantic past as
a maritime port. Recently, city money had been pumped in to redevelop, renovate and restore the place, but despite the millions spent on it, its couthy character had never quite been extinguished.
It was like an old Scots lady, her tartans now replaced by stylish silk clothes, but who betrayed her origins every time she opened her mouth.

Next to the bookshop was an office, deserted, with a Polish name emblazoned above the door and fly-posters pasted across its cobwebbed windows. Its abandoned state was easily enough explained,
she thought. Nowadays, there were precious few Poles left in the capital to use its services, the cold wind of recession having blown most of them back to Warsaw, Cracow, Gdansk or wherever.

Maybe, after the hearing, she too would find herself jobless, she mused. Conscious that she was sinking into the quagmire of doubt again, she wrenched her attention back and began staring
through the glass of a shoe repairer and locksmith’s door. Deliberately, she focused on the display of mortise locks and Yale keys inside as if they were of interest, exhibits worthy of
study. Moving onwards she forced herself, once more, to put her appointment out of her mind, to stop herself dwelling on her imminent professional nemesis. But with the hour growing closer it was
becoming impossible.

In a final attempt, she halted to look in the window of the One-Stop Aquarium Shop, her eye momentarily caught by an iridescent fish darting about its tank, its tiny body glinting like a jewel
in the clear water. But as she was watching it, unconsciously she started to finger the folded-up piece of paper in her pocket, feeling the edges of the Misconduct Form between her thumb and
forefinger. It was dog-eared and discoloured from too much handling, and on it were recorded the two charges laid against her.

She knew the wording by heart. The first was for revealing ‘in a manner that was not for police purposes’ that Robert Longman was a sex offender. The second was for ‘stating to
a named Professional Standards Department Officer in the course of his inquiries that she had not been the source of such information when she did know this to be false and for thereby carelessly
or wilfully creating a falsehood’. In short, charge number one was for disclosing unnecessarily that Longman was a paedophile, and number two was for lying about having disclosed that

At the hearing this afternoon, she must keep her nerve, she told herself. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And if they did not believe her, then . . . then, then? Then
so be it. But they would, because it was the truth. So they bloody must.

But envisaging the tribunal, she could feel the panic rising within her. How many times had she seen juries acquit those she knew to be guilty? In one case a complete confession taken by her had
been withheld from a jury for procedural reasons. But it had convinced her, and she could still see the accused punching the air as the verdict was delivered. In another case, the newly-liberated
man had been unable to resist gloating, goading them all as he left the courtroom by giving them chapter and verse of the offence, providing new and revolting details that only the guilty person
could know. But miscarriages of justice went both ways, and the innocent were sometimes locked up.

had she got into this mess? The answer was simple. All thanks to that bastard, Stevenson. But for his inability to control himself, and tell the truth, she would not now be teetering
on the edge of dismissal.

Just a few more hours to kill, helping the boys in Gayfield, and then on to Fettes HQ, where all the formality and gravitas of the law would be on display to impress or intimidate her. As if the
very word ‘hearing’ in itself was not enough to make a cold shiver run down her spine.

A double-decker bus hooted its horn at a passing cyclist, the man’s helmeted head low down on his handlebars, and the noise brought her back to the present in the nick of time. A second
later, in her preoccupied state, and she would have collided with a post from which was suspended one of the many ‘I Love Leith’ banners that had been hoisted the length of the Walk.
Well, I don’t, she declared cantankerously, surveying its litter-strewn pavements and stepping out of the way of an abandoned armchair. Who does? They protest too much. The feel-good slogan
trumpets the burgh’s unloved and miserable status, like a valentine some sad person sends to himself.

SART – the Search and Recovery Team – were based at Gayfield Square Police Station. The squat, toad-like shape of the sixties building with its warty, grey-harled
surface, gave fair notice to all and sundry of the nature of the accommodation to be found within. There were suites of drab, functional rooms without ornament of any kind, all painted in tired
shades of magnolia. Posters on the walls warned of the dangers posed by adulterated heroin and the use of dirty needles. Telephone numbers to ring in case of domestic abuse, child abuse or
substance abuse were on display, and everything had been translated into at least four languages, English alone long since having become insufficient for the city’s needs.

The office to which she had been seconded for the day was tucked away at the end of a narrow corridor on the second floor, and was as unobtrusive and low-key as its occupants. In order to get
into it, Alice had to push with her shoulder against the door, dislodging as she did so a recently-recovered stolen bicycle which had been propped up against it. Donny McDaid, a plain-clothes
constable and one of the stalwarts of the operation, had his sturdy, denim-clad legs up on his desk. A tattooed arm rested on the top of his computer. With his left hand he was busy fidgeting with
the rubber band that held his ponytail in place.

‘Any luck with the notebook?’ he inquired genially as she entered.


‘Good on you.’

‘Aye. Well done,’ Fergus Walsh, another team member, chipped in. His eyes were roving over a white board on which the names and telephone numbers of all the pawnbrokers in the
capital had been scrawled in black magic-marker. With a sleeve of his cotton jersey he rubbed out one entry and inserted another in its place.

‘It wasn’t that difficult,’ Alice said defensively, handing over the laptop to Donny.

‘Not for a quick learner like you, eh?’ Fergus retorted, winking at Donny and returning to his desk.

‘Tea?’ Alice asked, turning towards the white plastic kettle and stained cups on the metal filing cabinet. Peering inside the kettle, she noticed that the furred-up element appeared
to have burnt itself out and melted the plastic. She fished a couple of old teabags out of it.

‘You’re still on trial, mind,’ Fergus said, then, regretting his crass choice of words, added quickly, ‘. . . as a tea maker, I mean.’

‘But you’ll be making it, eh – because you’re a woman,’ Donny added, seeing his colleague’s embarrassment and trying to repair the damage.

‘I’ll be making it because I haven’t a clue what to do in this place.’

BOOK: The Road to Hell
5.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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