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Authors: Alex Gray

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BOOK: The Swedish Girl
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‘Please speak for the machine,’ DI Grant said again with a sigh that made Colin feel awkward and ashamed.

‘Yes, that’s right. We did have… sex,’ he mumbled, feeling his face reddening, not wishing to discuss intimate things in front of these two women. Suddenly he was angry. What right had she to peer and pry into his private life? Looking up he could see DI Grant’s smile continue, though her eyes were hard and cold.

‘We’d done nothing wrong,’ he protested, then swallowed hard, hearing his own voice come out small and shrill.

‘Consensual sex?’ DI Grant persisted. ‘Or did you force the girl against her will? Hit her hard to make her more compliant? Eh?’

‘Detective Inspector—’ Mrs Fellowes began but Colin could see the police officer wave her hand brusquely in the air as though to simply brush aside any possible protest.

Colin’s mouth opened in astonishment, then he closed it again. She didn’t know. How could she? Well, he wasn’t going to be the one to tell her what had really taken place. Eva was dead. It would do nobody any good to reveal to anyone what life had been like for him over the past few months, especially to her father.

He sat back in his seat, suddenly exhausted as though the last vestiges of energy had drained out of him.

‘No comment,’ he said at last, forcing his eyes to remain focused on his hands that were bunched together on his lap, fingernails digging into the palms and making them bleed.

‘Here’s what I think happened, Colin,’ DI Grant continued, leaning forward so near to him that he was aware of a pungent scent that might have been tea-tree oil. ‘I think you fancied Eva, fancied her a lot. A pretty Swedish girl whose warm sunny nature makes her popular with everyone she meets, a girl way out of your league, Colin. Wouldn’t you say?’

‘No comment,’ Colin whispered to his hands again, the scent emanating from the woman’s fingers making him feel sick.

‘Speak up, please.’

‘No comment,’ Colin said again, anger with this stupid woman and her stupid machine making his ears burn.

‘See, Eva could have had her pick of the lads, so why pick you, Colin?’

He kept his eyes down, refusing to rise to her bait, refusing even to answer.

‘Did you force her to have sex? Or was she so sorry for you that she let you have your way? And what happened afterwards? Did you come too quickly? Did she laugh at you? And then did you have a moment of utter rage when you hit her on the head? Such overpowering rage that you had to take her throat and squeeze it so hard that you killed her?’ Grant’s voice grew louder with every question.

‘No!’ Colin sat up suddenly, thumping the table between them. ‘I didn’t kill her! You can’t believe that I did!’ he gulped.

‘Sure about that, Colin?’ The woman was smiling at him still, her cats’ eyes gleaming as though she had scored a point by making him answer her at last.

‘Of course I’m sure,’ he said, clasping his hands together to stop them trembling, eyes cast down to avoid the detective inspector’s stare.

‘You see, we think that you did,’ DI Grant continued. She paused for a moment and he looked up despite himself to see her regarding him thoughtfully.

‘We think that you killed the girl in a moment of… what shall we call it, a moment of madness, if you like. Some killers do tend to use that particular phrase, you know,’ she said drily.

Colin wanted to turn to the solicitor in mute appeal but a sudden thought made his skin prickle with sweat. She had made no noise of objection on his behalf. Was she part of the ‘we’ that the detective inspector was referring to? Was this some kind of conspiracy against him?

Colin shook his head again. ‘I did not kill her,’ he said slowly, enunciating each word as though to make the detective understand. ‘I don’t
have
a temper. I’m not that sort of person.’

The detective inspector shared a wry smile with the other woman, one sardonic eyebrow lifted as though to say,
Well what was all that shouting about then?

‘No? What sort of person are you then, Colin?’ She was sitting back in her seat now, arms folded, looking at him with interest.

‘You’re so sweet, Colin,’ Eva had said, tracing his lips with one finger. Her eyes had looked into his, melting him with that blue gaze. He had smelled her scent, something that reminded him of gardens after the rain, fresh and lovely, just like Eva herself. He had run his hands over her hair, gently, caressing her—

‘What sort of person do you think you are?’ the woman said, rephrasing her question.

‘Don’t know,’ Colin shrugged.
Not a killer, not someone who would ever have hurt that girl, any girl
, he wanted to scream. But all he needed right now was to get out of this room and away from the persistent voice that was accusing him.

‘Okay, let’s try again,’ DI Grant said, folding her hands upon the table between them and staring at him intently. ‘Let’s begin at the beginning when you first met Eva Magnusson.’

 

Colin opened his eyes, hoping that he was wakening from the nightmare that had engulfed him. But what he saw as he looked around the place reminded him that it was all too real. Although the sky was dark, the white-painted walls glowed from the street lights outside and the metal toilet gleamed in the corner of his cell. Something smelled stale and sour and Colin realised with a sense of shame that it was coming from his own unwashed body.

He had slept fitfully on top of the blue mattress, trying hard not to let his emotions get the better of him, hearing voices calling in the nearby cells, often accompanied by banging against the blue metal doors. Once he could have sworn he had woken himself by crying out, for an officer had opened the door and asked if he was okay. Someone seemed to stop by that door at regular intervals, always disturbing his sleep. Tomorrow he would be taken from this place to the court where his defence – Mrs Fellowes? – would try to get him released on bail.

‘Don’t bank on it,’ the solicitor had told him quietly. ‘This is a grave charge and you might be refused bail, even though you have no previous record.’

He had stared at her, wide-eyed from all the hours that he had spent being quizzed by that detective inspector. His head had been aching afterwards and the cold calmness of being alone in this cell had come almost as a relief. What would happen next? Would he be taken from the courts and allowed to go home to his father? Colin Young squeezed his eyes tightly shut, forcing himself to discount any other possibility.

CHAPTER 15


I
can’t believe it!’ Kirsty Wilson slumped into the armchair, looking at her father’s face as though he were making some sort of sick joke. ‘It can’t be true! Colin wouldn’t hurt a fly!’ she protested, the tears suddenly springing back into eyes that she thought had wept themselves dry.

‘Sorry, love,’ Alistair Wilson murmured, coming to sit on the arm of the chair and pat his daughter’s shoulder.

‘Well, what does he say? He hasn’t confessed, has he?’

‘No.’ Alistair shook his head and frowned. For the umpteenth time he wished that his professional life had not impinged on his family, especially Kirsty. It was bad enough that work had made him miss so many special occasions in the past, but now to have his wee girl involved in a murder case that was being investigated on his own patch, well that was just too much.

‘I don’t believe he did it. Something must be wrong,’ Kirsty protested. ‘Anyway, where is he now? At home again with his dad?’ she asked hopefully.

‘No,’ Alistair replied with a sigh. ‘He was refused bail.’

‘Oh, no!’ Kirsty’s hand flew to her mouth. ‘Where is he?’

‘Barlinnie,’ her father answered. ‘On remand.’

Kirsty shook her head. ‘That’s awful, Dad,’ she said, looking up at him as his hand grasped hers in a consoling squeeze.

‘I know, pet. I’m sorry,’ Alistair said.

‘But isn’t there anything we can do?’

Kirsty saw her father turn his face away then and at that moment the girl experienced a sense of loss greater than she had ever known in her life. They were divided, father and daughter. Detective Sergeant Wilson would always take the part of his professional colleagues over the feelings and sensitivities of his daughter, wouldn’t he? She slipped her hands out of his grasp and stared straight ahead.

‘You’ve always said I’m a good judge of character, haven’t you? Listen, I know what Colin’s like, Dad,’ she said quietly. ‘And I know that he’s not a killer.’

 

The horse was the first thing he saw as the transporter trundled through the gates of HMP Barlinnie Prison. For a split second Colin thought he must have been hallucinating: a horse? Here inside a prison? But as he had craned his neck to look more closely he recognised the sculpture as something similar to the heavy horse made out of barbed wire that looked down over the M8 motorway. This one had horse brasses around its neck, tufts of plaited mane sticking up and a plough trailing behind it. Colin remembered the tiny seed of hope that had been planted in him as the horse left his view, the transporter turning on the grey tarmac beside the prison gardens: maybe it wouldn’t be too bad here after all, if there was something creative going on?

The rest of his admission was now a painful blur; blubbering like a child in front of the nice nurses who had insisted he had to be strip-searched, hanging his head in shame as one of them patted his back, telling him that it was okay, everyone felt like this at first. Then that awful clang as the door of the cell closed behind him.

 

Colin Young fingered the lapels of the faded blue shirt folded neatly on his narrow bunk. His clothes had been taken away and, although one of the prison officers had mentioned that someone would be allowed to bring his own stuff from home, Colin was not sure when or if that would actually happen. On arrival he had been handed a pair of red tracksuit trousers and an orange fleece; hideous but probably necessary to identify him as a new entrant to this penal system. Now they lay in a garish bundle at the foot of his bunk.

The chubby-faced prison officer had told him that he was to be taken to the prison block that would be his home until the time came for his trial. One hundred and forty days, someone had said, but Colin had doubted this, hoping it wasn’t true. How many different men had worn this particular garment, he wondered. The shivering was as much from that thought as from the fact that he was standing in only a T-shirt and underpants. These, at least, had been in a plastic packet and looked brand new. He pulled his arms through the sleeves and buttoned up the shirt, looking at the dark blue jeans that still lay on the bed. They too were faded with many washes yet still stiff from the dryer. There would be no putting out of a wash here, he suddenly realised, no billowing lines of laundry like the ones in the back greens at home. It would be all done by machinery somewhere in the bowels of this enormous place.

For a moment Colin remembered the black and white engravings he had seen in the People’s Palace, old Glasgow, where women came from all parts to spread their linen out to dry on the famous Glasgow Green. When would he ever be able to walk across that swathe of grass again?

Before he realised it, Colin was dressed and ready for whatever this new day was to bring. He had spent the night alone in this cell, a much smaller one than the large sparse cell back at Stewart Street, sleeping in fits, disturbed by the prison officers on their rounds, sliding the square viewing panel up to check that he was all right. This was a special block – one that was reserved for men coming into prison to enable the prison officers to orientate them into the ways of the system. Or so he had been told. Colin had tried hard to listen to everything, taking in what he could, but his mind had been numb with the fear of it all and the reality that he was actually inside a prison, accused of a capital crime.

‘I didn’t do it,’ Colin had whispered, confiding to the prison officer who looked older even than his own father, hoping that the kindly eyes that swept over his quivering body would understand. ‘I didn’t do what they said I did,’ he had insisted quietly.

‘Aye, they all say that, lad,’ the man had said with a tired smile. And at that moment Colin knew that his very presence here in this prison had given him a different status. He was a suspect, a male on remand, a killer in the eyes of each and every one of these officials. That he lived in a country where one was supposed to be innocent until proved guilty didn’t seem to matter now. The very idea of voicing that thought had made Colin suddenly weary. From the moment he had left his home two mornings ago it was as if all the energy had been leached from his body and soul. Now he felt a dull ache all the time, as though he were battered and bruised, though nobody had laid a finger upon him.

Outside he could hear the clanging of doors as the prison officers made their way along the upper corridor of the remand block in Barlinnie. The sounds grew louder, making Colin stare at the cream-painted door that separated him from the new prison world that awaited him. Thoughts of other inmates and their brutality rushed through his brain. Would he be a victim of assault? Or was that just something that cop shows and paperback thrillers tended to suggest? He had been protected here on his first night, told that he would be sent into the main prison today: A Block, he thought the officer had said, whatever that meant.

Colin stiffened as the heavy metal door swung open. A thickset man in a black uniform stood clutching a bunch of keys in one meaty hand, looking at him without a trace of emotion in his large moonlike face.

‘Young. Come this way,’ he grunted, and motioned for Colin to follow him out of the cell where a second officer was waiting.

Above them Colin could see that the sky was still dark through the glass roof that arched overhead. It was nearing the shortest day, he remembered, and every day would be as gloomy as this one. Inside, though, the artificial lighting made the whole place a cavern of light and space, intensified by the echoing sounds from the metal stairs as he followed the prison officers down the steep flights right to the ground floor. A simile came into his head then: the stairs and the upper corridors were like ribs in a sunken ship… could he fashion something into a poem about his incarceration?

Then he was at a door and another, keys turned, bolts shot back and Colin found himself breathing fresh air once more.

Outside, the rain was just a memory in the wind, a faint dampness that cooled Colin’s upturned face, though he was glad of the rough blue windcheater that he had put on. The three men walked in silence, Colin between them, past high grey walls that loomed up into the winter sky. He listened, but there were no birds here, no singing before the dawning light, only the sound of their feet stepping onto hard ground.

 

It was a bit cheeky, perhaps, but Kirsty Wilson had decided that it was the only way that she could see to make things happen. She’d known him since childhood, of course, admired him from afar, listened to her dad as he told tales that made her shiver. William Lorimer had been in many dangerous situations in his police career, Kirsty knew; he had faced some of the most horrible criminal types,
the mad ones as well as the bad ones
, as her dad was fond of saying, and yet Kirsty had never seen a cynical hardbitten side to the tall detective superintendent.

It was dark in the late afternoon and, despite the light pollution from nearby street lamps, Kirsty was able to make out a few early stars as she walked down to the house where the Lorimers lived. Looking for the numbers on the houses, she pulled her scarf tighter as a gust of wind crept under her hood and across a bare patch on her neck. Some had names, others numbers but there were a few with neither and Kirsty had been counting the odds and evens since she had turned the corner into the avenue.

It was easier to spot than she had realised. The detective superintendent’s big silver Lexus was parked on the drive in front of a single garage and the house number was fixed to the wall at the side of the front porch. As she approached, a security light flooded the entrance, illuminating a swathe of greenery beside the doorway, the tiny yellow flowers of winter jasmine a warm note of colour in these darkest days of winter.

She pressed the bell but could not hear a sound from within, though there was a light shining from behind a thick curtain. Was anybody home? Had she steeled herself all the way over here just to find it had all been a waste of time? For a moment Kirsty felt a sense of disappointment tinged with relief. She wouldn’t have to do anything after all. Would she?

Then, as the door opened, she started, heart beating wildly as the man stooped down a little to see who was there.

‘Kirsty?’

And as soon as Lorimer spoke her name, the girl knew for a certainty that there was no going back now.

‘Come in, come in, it’s freezing out there,’ he said, opening the door wider and ushering her into a place that was bathed in warmth and sparkling light.

‘Oh!’ she exclaimed, catching sight of a Christmas tree on the upper landing.

Lorimer followed her gaze and smiled. ‘Maggie likes to put it up every year.’ He shrugged. ‘Some of the decorations are as old as the hills; stuff from our childhood,’ he said, looking up at the twinkling fairy lights.

‘We didn’t put ours up,’ Kirsty said in a small voice. The long sigh that followed was enough explanation. Who would feel like celebrating in the wake of a friend’s murder?

‘Come on through,’ Lorimer said. ‘Fancy a coffee? Maggie’s not in at the moment but I do know how to boil a kettle,’ he joked.

‘Thanks,’ Kirsty replied, following the tall man into a big open-plan room. A long stretch of breakfast bar divided the kitchen area from what looked like a study-cum-sitting room. An open laptop sat on a desk near the front window and Kirsty suddenly felt guilty that she had disturbed this man from whatever he had been doing. She trailed after him into the warmth of the kitchen, unbuttoning her coat and pulling off the scarf that had been wound around her neck, her eyes flicking over the neat cream-coloured cupboards and a shelf full of cookery books. She moved across to stand beside the glowing oven, bending down a little to see what was inside.

‘Smells good,’ she offered, seeing the cast iron casserole inside.

‘Maggie’s a great cook,’ Lorimer said, switching on the kettle and turning to give Kirsty a smile. ‘Think we’re in for one of her goulashes tonight,’ he added. ‘You can stay for dinner if you’d like. She’ll be back in an hour or so.’

Kirsty shook her head. ‘I’m working tonight,’ she told him. ‘And it was really you I wanted to see anyway.’

He had turned away to spoon instant coffee into a pair of porcelain mugs decorated with pictures of cats, so Kirsty failed to see the thoughtful expression on his face but he stood so still that she imagined that he must realise just why his detective sergeant’s daughter had come to visit on a Saturday afternoon.

‘Your dad says you’ve gone back to the flat. Isn’t that a bit hard for you?’

‘I s’pose so.’ She bit her lip. ‘But I keep mainly to my own room and the kitchen.’

She could almost hear that unspoken question:
‘How can you bear to enter that room again?’

Lorimer turned to look at her, a teaspoon held aloft. She saw the pity in his eyes but all he said was, ‘Sugar?’

‘Two please,’ she nodded, then they were sitting opposite one another beside a low coffee table, sipping the hot drinks. Kirsty noticed how Lorimer took his plain black and unsweetened, and now the policeman was looking at her intently, as though waiting for her to begin.

‘It’s about Colin,’ she said at last. ‘I wanted to see if you could do anything…’

Lorimer’s frown made her heart sink. Was he annoyed at her for coming to ask?

‘He’s not guilty,’ Kirsty said suddenly, lowering her mug of coffee onto a coaster. ‘I
know
Colin. He simply isn’t capable of something as terrible as that,’ she told him earnestly, looking up to meet his blue gaze.

Lorimer gave a sigh. ‘Oh, Kirsty, I’m really sorry about this. But tell me, honestly, can you really say you know a person that has only been your flatmate for what… barely three months?’

The girl nodded vigorously. ‘Yes, I can. I’ve got to know Colin Young better than all of the others,’ she insisted. ‘He’s a gentle soul, wouldn’t hurt a fly, never mind… what someone did to Eva.’ She bit her lip, terrified still to utter the dreadful words. ‘Colin’s a writer,’ she went on. ‘He’s into poetry and things like that. A bit of a dreamer at times.’ She smiled as though she were already a grown-up mother remembering a favourite son. ‘He’s a
nice
person, Mr Lorimer. I just know he couldn’t have done it!’ she repeated.

BOOK: The Swedish Girl
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