Authors: Alex Gray
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
Lorimer looked down at his coffee cup for a moment as though considering her words, leaving Kirsty to bite her lower lip, tense with hope.
‘What did you imagine I could do, Kirsty?’ he asked at last, his voice so gentle that the girl felt tears prick behind her eyelids.
‘I thought…’ She sniffed then gulped. ‘Thought you could investigate a bit more and see that it was all a mistake,’ she said quietly. But even as she spoke her words sounded foolish.
‘I can’t do that, Kirsty,’ Lorimer continued. ‘Now that Colin’s been charged it’s up to a court of law to decide if he’s guilty or not. Besides, I’m not even the senior investigating officer in this case. It would be quite impossible for me to go against a colleague,’ he explained. ‘And anyway, what grounds do you have for thinking that further investigation is needed?’
‘I know the sort of lad Colin is!’ Kirsty blurted out. ‘I just know he couldn’t have killed Eva. He… he really liked her,’ she stammered, colouring as though she had suddenly said too much.
‘Your loyalty does you credit, lass,’ Lorimer told her, ‘but if all you’ve got to go on are your feelings, how can that stand up in a court of law?’
Kirsty shook her head, too full of emotion to speak.
‘Listen,’ Lorimer continued. ‘If you really want to help Colin, then find something to substantiate these feelings.’
Kirsty looked up, a sudden hope flaring in her heart.
‘There would only be grounds for a further investigation if there was some kind of new evidence that pointed away from Colin. D’you understand?’
Kirsty nodded, looking at him intently, searching the light blue eyes for any sign that the detective might agree to help her. But there was only an expression of sympathy there, pity for a young woman who could not believe the worst of her friend.
Lorimer sighed as he rinsed out the mugs under the tap. She was a nice kid. Alistair and Betty had done a grand job with their only daughter, he thought, realising what courage it must have taken for Kirsty Wilson to have visited on the boy’s behalf. And it was quite her own idea; that much he believed. There had been no contact between the two flatmates since Colin Young had been taken to Barlinnie prison but Kirsty must have felt completely miserable to have lost not one but two friends so tragically. No wonder she was trying to salvage something from that emotional wreckage.
But it was absolutely true what he had told her: there really was nothing he could do for the boy now that he was on remand.
He laid the mugs on the draining board and picked up a towel to dry his hands, his eyes staring out at the darkening midwinter sky. There was something in that girl’s plea that gave him pause for thought. What if they’d got it wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time someone had been wrongly imprisoned, would it? Lorimer cast his mind back to a case where he had interviewed a young woman in Cornton Vale prison. That had been a hard one to decide, hadn’t it? But justice had prevailed in the end. It was all they could do, as police officers; bring the perpetrators of crime to the courts of law and let a judge and jury make the final decision.
he path outside the front door was slippery and Henrik had to put out a gloved hand to steady himself, catching hold of the edge of the wall before his feet gave way. For a moment he stood still, his breath coming in clouds before his face. Was this what it felt like to become old? Would he always feel this uncertainty beneath his feet, the lack of power in a body that was ageing day by painful day? The very air seemed to tremble as Henrik stood there, cold seeping into every pore of his being. Then, with a sigh, he pulled off his right glove to rummage in his coat pocket, and inserted the key into the big keyhole in the green door.
Even as he made his way up, Henrik Magnusson could feel his heart beating in his chest as though it was an effort to climb those flights of stairs. Was he coming down with some sort of an infection, perhaps? Marthe, his housekeeper, was forever telling him that air travel was notorious for spreading germs. But when had he last suffered any illness in his life? Henrik stopped suddenly on the landing below the flat, remembering. It had been shortly after Eva’s birth; he had fallen ill with a severe dose of flu, caught perhaps by standing at his wife’s graveside in the driving snow. He had taken to his bed, leaving the baby in the care of the woman who was to become Eva’s nurse throughout her childhood. He had not seen Marthe since the news of his daughter’s death: the telephone call to tell her had made him feel a physical pain as he heard the woman weep and Henrik was reluctant to repeat such an experience just yet. Perhaps grief did that to a man, he thought, made them weak and vulnerable, prey to any sort of virus that sought a host. He swallowed, feeling a rawness in his throat that seemed to confirm his thoughts, then, placing his hand on the ancient wooden banister, he pulled himself up the last few steps.
Kirsty was barely awake when she heard the door opening with a click. For one wild moment she sat up in bed, supposing it to be Colin, then the memories of what had happened came flooding back. Had it been the wind that night? Or had she been only feet away from the person who had killed her friend? Kirsty shivered, snuggling deeper below the duvet. She’d imagined it, right? That was what the senior investigating officer had implied anyway.
And right now it was probably Rodge or Gary coming back, and she wasn’t up to talking to either of them just yet.
The voice made Kirsty slide out of bed and grab her fleecy dressing gown from the peg on her door.
‘Mr Magnusson!’ Kirsty gasped as she padded into the darkened hallway. Then she stepped forward, seeing the big man slouched on one of the antique chairs. ‘Are you all right?’
She touched his coat sleeve, feeling the cold wrinkles of the sheepskin as she bent to look at him more closely. The handsome face was pale and gaunt, his brow beaded with sweat.
‘My God!’ she said. ‘You’re not well! C’mere. Let me help you. I’ll make you something hot to drink.’ She tucked her hand under his elbow as if to assist him up from the spindly chair.
‘Kirsty,’ he whispered, turning his face up to hers, and she could see the tears in his eyes as Eva’s father swallowed hard, unable to speak. But there was no need for words as the girl bent to hug the stricken man, feeling how cold his cheek was as she put her face to his.
Oh you poor, poor man!
Kirsty wanted to say but she only sniffed back her own tears, determined not to upset him any further.
‘Come on through to the lounge,’ she told him. ‘I’ll light the fire and you can sit and get warm while I find you something to make you feel better. Okay?’
She watched intently as the big man heaved himself out of the chair and leaned against her.
‘C’mon, now, take it easy,’ she whispered, helping him along the hallway and into the big airy lounge at the far end.
‘Here,’ she said, ushering him into the wing chair nearest to the fire. Henrik sank into it heavily, his eyes refusing to meet her own. Was he embarrassed to be suffering this moment of weakness in front of a girl who was only his tenant? Perhaps it was her nightclothes, Kirsty thought, pulling the sash tighter around her body. What on earth must he be thinking, seeing her in those flannelette pyjamas decorated with cartoon cats and the white fleecy dressing gown that made her look like a big fat snowman?
She knelt down and lit the gas fire, turning the flame up to its highest before turning to check that he was all right. He sat as before, slumped into the chair, his face white and drawn, staring into the fire that had begun to burn quietly in the hearth.
It was almost a relief to be in the familiar kitchen, filling the kettle, rummaging in the cupboards for some paracetamol and looking in the fridge to see if there was anything she could give him for breakfast. There were sausages – past their sell-by date – and bacon and probably some eggs still in the crock over by the window. Kirsty stood still for a moment, her tongue protruding from one side of her mouth as she considered. Scrambled eggs, she decided, then set to work.
Henrik stared into the fire, afraid to look up and see the rest of this room. It had been such a short time ago that the place had been full of workmen, painting and decorating to his commands, then fitting the rich, ruby-red carpet and setting his choice of furniture wherever he directed. And it was here, he knew, that Eva’s life had been taken. Didn’t the girl realise that, he wondered in a sudden spurt of anger, but the feeling passed in a flash as he acknowledged that Kirsty Wilson was simply doing what any woman would do, seeing to the needs of someone in distress. She reminded him of Marthe, he thought. Not that this dumpling of a girl resembled the tall, slender woman in any physical way, but there had been that same quality of warmth and care in her voice that recalled his housekeeper to mind.
At last the man raised his eyes and looked around the room. Little had changed, he thought, seeing the fine furniture against the walls: an antique cabinet that was full of books, the table by the window covered in trailing plants – his choice from that big garden centre, he remembered – and the low coffee table beside him with a few large glossy books pushed to one side. He drew his finger across the surface of the topmost book, seeing the trail left on its dusty surface, and gave a sigh. Why would he have imagined that the students might have any interest in such volumes as these? It was obvious from their pristine condition that the books on history and aviation had been of no interest to the young people in this flat. He sighed, the sound becoming a groan as his eyes refused to look down on the carpet.
‘Here you are,’ Kirsty said and Henrik looked up as though surprised to find the girl standing in front of him. She set down a tray on his lap and Henrik took it carefully, noting the steaming cup of coffee and scrambled eggs beside a glass of water.
He looked at her and shook his head. ‘I don’t think I could eat anything,’ he said.
Kirsty bit her lip and shrugged. ‘Och, don’t worry. See what you can manage. I think you should have these anyway.’ She handed him two white capsules. ‘You look terrible, by the way,’ she blurted.
Henrik managed a rueful smile. ‘Thank you, Kirsty,’ he said. ‘I’ll try not to look in any of the mirrors then.’
‘Okay, well, um… I think I better go and get dressed,’ Kirsty said, dithering by his chair then, much to Henrik’s relief, she was gone again, leaving him to swallow the pills and contemplate the breakfast before him.
As she came out of her bedroom, dressed hastily in jeans and a warm sweater, Kirsty stopped to turn up the central heating on the wall next to the front door. She was the only one of them to have returned to Merryfield Avenue so far but Rodge had texted her to say that both he and Gary would be back some time today. The boys had been put up by Roger’s pals for several nights now and Kirsty wondered just what the future was going to hold for them all here in the Anniesland flat. Well, she told herself, pulling back her shoulders and preparing to stride through the hall, the very man who could tell her that was here right now.
‘Oh, you managed…’ Kirsty smiled as she saw the tray lying on the coffee table, the plate empty and the knife and fork laid neatly across the middle. ‘Can I get you anything else?’ she asked, bending down to lift the tray away. But a movement from the man made her pause.
‘Kirsty, leave that just now, will you?’ he asked quietly. ‘I would like to talk to you, if I may.’
This was it, then, she thought sadly. He was going to ask them all to find somewhere else to live. Couldn’t blame him, though, she told herself. How could he keep this place on now?
She shrugged then tried to smile but failed. ‘Well, I guess you won’t want us hanging about here after all that’s happened,’ she began.
Henrik frowned. ‘You think I am going to evict you, Kirsty? Why on earth would I do that? I am perfectly happy that you remain here, if you want to, that is. You have all signed a lease for the year and I would not dream of asking anyone to leave!’ he exclaimed.
‘Oh, I thought…’ She bit her lip and looked at him again. ‘Well, I
want to stay here, Mr Magnusson. It was lovely till…’ She broke off then breathed in sharply, trying to compose herself for what she wanted to say. ‘And I think Rodge and Gary will too. And Colin, when he comes back, of course,’ she added in a rush.
The big man sat back, his eyebrows raised in a moment of total astonishment.
‘You expect that he will come back here?’ His voice rose in a credulous note.
Kirsty nodded silently.
‘But he has been put in prison for killing my daughter!’ Henrik protested. ‘How can you say such things! My Eva, who was so perfect until…’ He stopped, one hand across his eyes as though he were trying to blot out some terrible memory.
Kirsty shivered, a sudden chill coursing down her back. What did he mean? Was he talking about Eva’s death? She frowned, biting her lip.
‘Mr Magnusson,’ she began, trembling slightly under the man’s stern gaze, ‘I really don’t think it was Colin who killed her. Honestly I don’t.’
‘But the police have evidence that he was the last one with her—’
‘They have evidence that he and Eva had sex,’ Kirsty told him bluntly. ‘That shouldn’t be the same as thinking he killed her as well. Making love isn’t a crime,’ she went on, then stopped, remembering for a fleeting moment her own rough and tumble upstairs with Roger Dunbar.
‘See, I really got to know Colin quite well since we all came here,’ she told him earnestly, leaning forward and hugging her arms around her chest. ‘Colin’s a nice lad, a bit bookish, perhaps, but a gentle soul. He would never have hurt Eva,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘He was so very fond of her, you know.’ She sighed.
‘And she liked him too, did she?’ Henrik asked, shaking his head in puzzlement as though it had only just occurred to him that there might have been something he did not know about his daughter.
‘I think so,’ Kirsty said, mentally crossing her fingers. Why had they been together that night? Oh, Eva, if only you were here to tell me!
‘You think the police have got it wrong?’
‘Yes,’ she said simply. ‘I can’t speak to my dad about it but I did see Detective Superintendent Lorimer yesterday.’
Henrik nodded, encouraging her to continue.
‘Well, the police can’t do anything more for Colin unless some new evidence comes up to show that he was innocent.’
‘And? How is that going to happen?’
He was frowning again and, Kirsty thought, a bit annoyed at her. But she wasn’t going to achieve anything unless she was brave enough to plunge ahead.
‘Could I have your permission to go through all of Eva’s things? There’s still stuff that the police have left in her room,’ she explained.
‘Kirsty.’ Henrik reached out and took her hands in his. When he spoke again his voice was husky. ‘I can see you have been a friend to my girl and you are obviously a friend to this young man.’ He heaved a huge sigh that threatened to bring tears to his eyes and Kirsty looked away, too afraid to see this big handsome man break down in front of her.
‘You have my permission to look around, yes. I trust you to do this,’ he told her. ‘But only you, Kirsty. Take the key to Eva’s room, my dear, and keep it safe, will you? Then,’ he paused for a moment, ‘when you are sure that you have done all that you can, I will come back and we will pack up all her things together, yes?’
Kirsty nodded again, then on an impulse she rose from the chair beside Henrik’s to give him a hug. She could hear a sigh as she held him for a moment. Then, as she pulled away, she could see through her own blurred eyes the streams of tears that were coursing down this stricken father’s cheeks.