READ PART 1 HERE
Rebecca Connolly attached the Word file to the email and hit SEND, then sat back and reached out for the coffee beside her desktop PC. She sipped it. It was instant, albeit instant that came in a fancy glass jar, but she preferred spooning granules into a mug than struggling with coffee makers that first required an engineering degree to understand and then provided something she didn’t really like in the first place.
The story she had just filed would appear in the following day’s press: a serious assault heard at the High Court sitting in Inverness. Court reports formed much of the small agency’s income. She didn’t mind. She was her own boss effectively because the owner, Elspeth McTaggart, was very much an absentee landlord. She was there if needed but, in general, she allowed Rebecca to get on with it alone. And Rebecca preferred it that way, for when she had worked with the local paper she had grown tired of the eyes over her shoulder. She’d known that a lot of the crap back then was necessary – those above her had people above them and they had people above them and they were watching pennies and counting stories and trying to work out how few reporters they needed and still get papers out every week. But that didn’t make her feel any better.
The office radio was tuned to the local station and she heard the newsreader say something about concerns mounting for a GP who hadn’t been seen since the previous morning. It was his name that caught Rebecca’s attention – Shakespeare. Okay, his first name was Robert but you couldn’t have everything.
‘. . . it is unusual for Dr Shakespeare to be out of contact for over twenty-four hours,’ said the newsreader. ‘He was scheduled for a regular visit at the Serene Moments Care Home in Inverness last night and then at another home in Elgin this morning, but he attended neither appointment. His family are urgently appealing for information as to his whereabouts.’
That’s what everyone wants when someone goes missing, Rebecca thought: information.
Her mobile rang and she glanced at the number before she answered. ‘Hi.’
‘We may have a problem,’ said Daniella.
‘Problems are my business,’ said Rebecca.
‘No,’ Daniella said, her voice low, ‘I’m being serious. We may have a problem.’
The tone was unmistakable. Rebecca listened while Daniella filled her in on the guy who had demanded a life insurance policy because he was going to be killed in an hour.
‘Then,’ said Daniella, ‘he hung up after warning me about knowing what we were up to. Said he would go to the Daily Record.’
‘I thought that at first, but I can’t say for sure. I didn’t phone you right away. I’ve spent a wee bit of time, in between calls, trying to figure out who the man was but I’ve drawn a blank. I mean how did he even know we were in contact? I’m in Glasgow; you’re in Inverness.’
Rebecca had met Daniella at a weegie party three months before when she was home visiting her mother. Turned out the party was being hosted by a mutual friend – well, more an acquaintance now, as she hadn’t seen Beverly for years, had no contact with her and was only invited because her mother had engineered it. She attended the party to please her mum, who probably hoped she would meet a guy, fall in love, get married and have 2.5 children. Rebecca had no such plans to do any of that, thank you very much, but she’d never told her mum that in so many words.
On hearing that she was a reporter, Daniella slowly opened up to Rebecca about a suspicion she had. Her boss, she felt, was cheating customers but she couldn’t prove it. Rebecca wasn’t terribly sure how; it was all to do with premiums and coverage and excesses, and frankly anything to do with pounds and pence sent her mind reaching for a Valium. However, she did start to make a few enquiries with a lawyer friend, someone who understood matters fiscal. And by friend, she meant an ex. And by ex, she meant someone she had hurt. And by hurt, she meant badly.
Still, Simon had done his best to try to talk her through the intricacies of the insurance game, as had Daniella, but she still had no real proof and certainly not anything near enough concrete evidence to run with a story.
The question was: what benefit was there to this Freddy character in running to the Record? They were unlikely to print anything. Newspapers hear from cranks every day.
Danielle was right, though. This was a problem.
Mainly because Rebecca couldn’t figure out how this guy knew about what they were up to.
And why he thought it was enough to hang over their heads.
‘We need to talk,’ said Daniella.
‘Why?’ replied Rebecca.
‘Because whoever called me has the inside track on our insurance company. He knew about the panic button. That’s not widely known.’
‘Inside track? I don’t think so, Daniella,’ Rebecca said. ‘I’ve dealt with my fair share of loons. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are as dumb as an amoeba but some are smart enough to use the internet to gen up on any subject they fancy. Even the intimate workings of an insurance company’s internal call procedures.’
‘Normally you’d be spot on, Rebecca . . .’
‘But?’ said Rebecca. ‘What’s the but?’
‘There is one thing that the caller couldn’t have got from the web.’
‘The panic button he talked about was only installed on our computers two days ago.’
It was then that Rebecca had one of those moments. One of those dyed-in-the-wool, right-in-the-gut, downright spotlight-on-the-parade moments that had stood her in good stead in the past. A hack’s gut, her boss called it, that little flicker of insight that separates the boys from the girls who knew their stuff.
‘Daniella,’ she said, ‘how much trouble are you in for not reporting that call right away?’
‘It depends. If it was a genuine crank, then none.’
‘And if it wasn’t a real crank?’
‘I’d be in the shit. Why? Are you saying it was genuine?’
‘No, not a genuine enquiry. But maybe a deliberate one.’
‘Well, what if this guy isn’t just screwing with you? What if he’s trying to get you fired?’
In the pause that followed Rebecca knew Daniella was experiencing the same road to Damascus moment as she’d just had – but the light was dark and dangerous.
‘He wants me to screw up?’ Daniella said.
‘He does that,’ replied Rebecca.
She let Daniella work the thread through in her head.
‘He’s made the call the way he did to try and stop me reporting it. His imminent death, the threat of going to the papers – maybe even pretending to know what we’re looking into.’ Daniella was thinking out loud. ‘All designed to stop me calling it in. And, if I get fired, our little investigation into my boss would fade into the distance.’
‘It would be a damn sight harder for me to chase it down without you. Which all means?’ said Rebecca, leaving the question hanging, a cheeky smile on her lips.
‘That, my dear Rebecca,’ Daniella said, her own broad smile obvious down the line, ‘that my boss is right up to his armpits in something and this guy Freddy is in it with him.’
‘That would be my guess.’
‘But if Freddy knows our system then he knows we record every call.’
‘Well, that means . . .’
Daniella broke off and Rebecca heard another voice. A man’s voice, slightly nasal, telling her to hang up the phone.
‘I’ll talk to you later,’ Daniella said to Rebecca, but didn’t kill the mobile. Rebecca guessed that Daniella must have laid it on the desk top, perhaps face down, because the voices were muffled, but, if she put her finger in her free ear to block out the noise from Inverness Old Town below her window, she could hear it well enough.
‘Did you take a call from a man called Freddy Barclay earlier on?’ said the man’s voice. Rebecca guessed this was the boss, a man Danielle had once told her felt that double-breasted jackets, tan moccasins and Aramis aftershave were still de rigueur.
‘A crank call,’ Daniella said. ‘I took a crank call from someone called Freddy.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘A crank? Yeah, I’m sure.’
‘Well, that crank just died.’
There was a pause. Rebecca knew for a fact that Daniella’s heart missed a few beats – because her own ticker skipped a couple too.
‘Died?’ Daniella’s voice was soft and strained.
‘And I just listened to the recording of your conversation, Daniella. That man, Freddy Barclay, told you he was going to be killed. And you said, and did, nothing.’
READ PART 3 HERE
Behind the Scenes of Death Insurance … the authors reveal it all in our exclusive interview.
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.