Authors: Paul Johnston
The Quint Dalrymple Mystery Series
THE BONE YARD
WATER OF DEATH
THE BLOOD TREE
THE HOUSE OF DUST
A Quint Dalrymple Mystery
First published in Great Britain in 1999
by Hodder and Stoughton, A Division of Hodder Headline PLC
338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH,
eBook edition first published in 2011 by Severn Select an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 1999 by Paul Johnston.
All rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
A CIP catalogue record for this title
is available from the British Library.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0045-7 (epub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
Edinburgh, July 2025. Sweat City.
When I was a kid before independence, summer was a joke that got about as many laughs as a hospital waiting list. There was the occasional sunny day, but you spent most of the time running from showers of acid rain and the lash of rabid winds. To make things worse, for three weeks the place was overrun by armies of culture victims chasing the hot festival ticket. Now the festival is a year-round event â though a lot of the tourists are only interested in the officially sanctioned marijuana clubs â and “hot” doesn't even begin to describe the state of the weather. Over the last couple of years temperatures have risen by three to four degrees, causing tropical diseases to migrate northwards and bacteria to embark on a major expansion programme. Scientists in the late twentieth century would have got closer to the full horror of the phenomenon if they'd called it “global stewing” â except we haven't got enough fresh water to stew anything properly.
What we do have is a cracker of a name for the season between spring and autumn. To everyone's surprise the new-look, user-friendly Council of City Guardians didn't saddle us with an updated designation for the period (think French Revolution, think Thermidor). Our masters were probably too busy discussing initiatives to relieve the tourists of even more cash. As the blazing days and stifling nights dragged by, ordinary citizens gave up distinguishing between the months of June, July and August. And even though the classic
movie hasn't been seen in Edinburgh since the cinemas were closed and television banned by the original Council, people have taken to calling this season the Big Heat. That kills me.
Still, in Sweat City we're really civilised. Unlike most states, we've done away with capital punishment and the nuclear switch has been flicked off permanently â the reactors at Torness were recently buried in enough concrete to give a 1990s town planner the ultimate hard on. On the other hand, the Council set up a compulsory lottery last year, turning greed into a virtue and most citizens into deluded fortune-hunters. Deluded, very thirsty fortune-hunters given the water restrictions.
Then some Grade A headbangers came along and raised the temperature even higher than it had been during Big Heat 2024. Giving me a pretty near terminal case of the “Summertime Blues”.
I was lying in the Meadows with a book and a heat-induced headache, making the most of the shade provided by one of the few trees with any leaves left on it. It was five in the afternoon but the sun still had plenty of fire in its belly. The rays glinted off a big hoarding in the middle of the park. It was advertising the lottery. Some poor sod who'd won it was dressed up like John Knox, a bottle of malt whisky poking out of his false beard. “Play Edlott, the Ultimate Lottery, and Anything Goes”, the legend said. If you ask me, what goes, what's already gone, is the last of the Council's credibility. There's an elaborate system of prizes ranging from half-decent clothes, to bottles of better-than-average whisky like the one Johnnie the Fox had secreted, to labour exemptions and pensions for life â but only for a few lucky sods. Edinburgh citizens were so starved of material possessions in the first twenty years of the Council that they now reckon Edlott is the knees of a very large Queen Bee. They even willingly accept the value of a ticket being docked from their wage vouchers every week. I think the whole thing sucks but I'm biased. I've never won so much as a tube of extra-strength sun-protection cream.
All round me Edinburgh citizens were lying motionless, their cheeks resting against parched soil that hadn't produced much grass since the Big Heat arrived. I was one of the lucky ones. At least I was wearing a pair of Supply Directorate shades that hadn't fallen to pieces. Yet.
I rolled over and peered at Arthur's Seat through the haze. People say the hill looks like a lion at rest. These days it's certainly the right shade of sandy brown, though the desiccated vegetation on its flanks gives the impression of an erstwhile king of the beasts who's been mauled by a pride of rabid republicans. As it happens, that isn't a bad description of the Enlightenment Party that led Edinburgh into independence in 2004. But things have changed a hell of a lot since then. For a start, like the nerve gas used by demented dictators in the Balkans twenty-plus years ago, you can smell Edinburgh people coming long before you can see or hear them. Water's almost as precious as the revenue from tourists here.
I glanced round at my fellow citizens. If Arthur's Seat is a lion, we must be the pack of ragged hyenas that hangs around it. Everyone was in standard-issue maroon shorts (standard-issue meaning too wide, too long and not anything like cool enough) and off-white T-shirts. Those whose sunglasses have self-destructed wear faded sunhats with a Heart of Midlothian badge on the front. Up until the time of the “iron boyscouts” â the hardline lunatics who ran the Council of City Guardians between 2020 and 2022 â only the rank of auxiliaries was entitled to wear the heart insignia, which has nothing to do with the pre-Enlightenment football team. The present Council's doing its best to make citizens feel they have the same rights as the uniformed class who carry out the guardians' orders. Except the auxiliaries don't have to wear clowns' outfits.
The hard ground was making my arms stiff. I stretched and made the mistake of breathing in through my nose. It wasn't just that the herd of humanity needed more than the single shower lasting exactly sixty seconds which it gets each week. (One of the lottery prizes is a five-minute shower every week for a month.) The still air over the expanse of flat parkland was infused with the reek from the public shithouses that have been set up at the end of every residential street. Since the onset of the Big Heat, citizens have had no running water in their flats. People get by one way or another and the black marketeers do good business in bottles, jars, chamberpots â anything that will hold liquid. But the City Guard has to patrol the queues outside the communal bogs first thing in the morning. It doesn't take long for dozens of desperate citizens to lose their grip and turn on each other.
It was too hot to read. I lay back and let an old blues number run through my mind. No surprises what it was â “Dry Spell Blues”. Before I could work out if Son House or Spider Carter was singing, the vocal was blown away by a sudden mechanical roar.
“Turn that rustbucket off, ya shite!” A red-haired kid of about seventeen jumped to his feet and started waving his arms at the driver of a tractor towing a battered water trailer. They come daily to refill the drinking-water tanks at every street corner. It stopped about fifty yards away from us.
“Aye, give us a break or I'll give you one,” shouted another young guy who obviously fancied himself as a hard man. The pair of them had done everything they could to make their clothes distinctive. They had their T-shirt sleeves folded double and their shorts stained with bleach, pieces of thick rope holding them up. Sweat City chic.
The driver had switched off his engine. Now that he could hear what was being broadcast to him, he didn't look happy. He was pretty musclebound for someone on the diet we get, and the set of his unshaven face suggested he didn't think much of the Council's recent easy-going policies and their effect on the young.
“You wee bastards,” he yelled, waddling towards the kids as quickly as his heavy thighs allowed. “Your heads are going down the pan.”
There was a collective intake of breath as the citizens around me sat up and paid attention, grateful for anything that took their minds off the stifling heat. I watched as a woman sitting with a small child near the loudmouthed guys started gathering up her towels and waterbottles nervously.
Our heroes took one look at the big man coming their way, glanced at each other and turned to run. Then the tough guy spotted the woman's handbag. She'd left it lying open on the ground as she leaned over her child.
“Tae fuck wi' the lot o' ye,” the kid shouted in the local dialect that the Council outlawed years ago. He bent down to scoop up the bag and sprinted after his pal towards the streets on the far side of the park. “Southside Strollers rule!” he yelled over his shoulder.
The woman shrieked. Her kid joined in. The citizens nearest to them crowded round to help but nobody else moved a muscle. Even the tractor driver had turned to marble. It wouldn't have been the first time they'd seen a bag snatched by the city's new generation of arseholes. It wasn't the first time I'd seen it either. Maybe because I'd once been in the Public Order Directorate, maybe because I was theoretically still a member of the Enlightenment, maybe just because I fancied a run â whatever, I got to my feet and gave what in the City Guard we used to call “chase”.