When Daniella Coulston, a claims assistant for a major insurance company, takes a call from a man who declares he will be dead within the hour, she dismisses him as a crank and doesn’t report the call.
But when a dead body is found in the caller’s flat her manager intervenes and threatens to call in the police.
Daniella already suspects there is something fishy going on within senior management and has been discussing it with Rebecca Connolly, a journalist in Inverness. When Daniella contacts Rebecca about the case, Rebecca thinks she recognises the dead man’s name. She gets in touch with former cop Bill Sawyers, who reveals the man is a small-time crook.
With Daniella wading through a slimy morass of office and sexual politics, and Rebecca surfing the belly of the Inverness underworld, together they uncover a web of lies, greed, fraud – and murder.
When the computer fed Daniella Coulston another client she sighed – a deep, dark, doleful noise that lasted so long the caller on the line was greeted by what sounded like the tail end of a deadly fart.
‘Eh, hello,’ said the caller. ‘Am I through tae JustU Insurance?’
A man’s voice.
Daniella shook her head and adjusted the headset that was rubbing a beauty of a blister into the top of her ear. The screen didn’t display any information on the caller, which meant the punter was probably a newbie looking for a quote.
‘Hi,’ she said. ‘This is JustU Insurance and my name’s Daniella. How can I help you today?’
The words were so engrained in her psyche that she regularly introduced herself to strangers in the pub in the same manner.
‘Do you sell life insurance, darling?’ said the man.
Darling. Red rag and bull were Daniella’s thoughts on that one. Darling.
‘We do indeed,’ she replied, with a little more venom than the training manual recommended. ‘May I take your name?’
‘Freddy,’ was the reply. ‘Now, I just need some life insurance – and speedy, like.’
‘I’m sorry but I’ll require your full name to start entering any details.’
‘What for? Are ye gonnae put it up in neon over the Kingston Bridge?’ the man said. ‘Look, darling, I need life insurance and I need it, like, right now.’
‘Sir, I’m afraid it’s not that simple.’
‘Aye, it is. We’re only talking a lousy twenty-grand policy. So, can we get a move on?’
‘I’m sorry, sir, but our minimum life insurance policy’s payout is two hundred and fifty thousand. We don’t offer anything smaller.’
‘How much, did ye say?’
‘Two hundred and fifty thousand.’
‘Nothing less? Are ye sure?’
‘I’m sorry, sir, but do you—’
‘Look, darling,’ interrupted the man. ‘I’m gonnae be kilt in less than an hour from now.’
‘Aye, kilt. Stone deid . . . kilt.’
‘You mean killed?’
‘In an hour from now?’
‘Less than that.’
Daniella moved the mouse on her computer screen over the alert button. If she pressed it, her boss would be notified and he’d jump on the call to listen in. She hesitated because her line manager, an evil swine who would have been more at home as an eighteenth-century slave trader, was not one who took lightly to being alerted if the call was just a crank. Daniella’s job description, as she had been told often enough, included heading off the nutters. She decided to hang fire for the moment.
‘You say you’re going to be killed?’ she said. ‘Is that correct?’
‘Aye, and if you tell any other bastard about this I’ll hang up and then ye’ll be in the right shite when I’m kilt. An’ that also means you’ve not to press that wee panic button on your screen.’
Daniella’s hand froze on the mouse.
‘And dinnae bother asking me how I know about this stuff,’ he said. ‘Just be a good girl and write me up a policy – like right now.’
How the hell did this man know about the alert button, was Daniella’s first thought. Her second was more revelatory: how would he know if I pressed it or not?
‘An’ I’ll tell ye summit else,’ he said, as if reading her thoughts. ‘If I think you’ve pressed yon button and me and you are not the only ones on this line, I’m phoning the Daily Record.’
‘The Daily Record?’
‘Aye, aboot the pair of ye.’
‘Aye. I know all aboot you and that daft reporter lassie Rebecca. I know what you’ve both been up tae. So hit yer panic button and you can read all aboot it the morra.’
‘I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t understand.’
‘Ach, screw this. Look, just keep yer nose oot o’ other people’s business. Got that?’
The caller hung up, but, just before he killed the line Daniella heard some faint but angry words. ‘Two hundred and fifty grand. Two hundred and fifty grand?’
READ PART 2 HERE
Douglas Skelton was born in Glasgow. He has been a bank clerk, tax officer, taxi driver (for two days), wine waiter (for two hours), journalist and investigator. He has written eleven true crime and Scottish criminal history books but now concentrates on fiction. His novel Thunder Bay (2019) was longlisted for the McIlvanney Award. Douglas has investigated real-life crime for Glasgow solicitors and was involved in a long-running campaign to right the famous Ice-Cream Wars miscarriage of justice. The second book in his Rebecca Connolly series, The Blood is Still, is available now!
Here, Gordon Brown is writing as Morgan Cry. Gordon has written six crime thrillers to date, along with a number of short stories. He also helped found Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, is a DJ on local radio (www.pulseonair.co.uk) and runs a strategic planning consultancy. His new thriller, Thirty-One Bones publishes in June 2020 and you can pre-order it here.