Rebecca was in Barney’s a full ten minutes before Sawyer arrived. She’d got him a whisky – it was still early but she felt she owed him that at least – and had taken a table in the corner where she could study the patrons. She had only been in the pub once before. It wasn’t the sort of place she frequented on the few occasions she had a night out as it wasn’t so much a dive as a sink to the bottom. It hadn’t been busy that time and it still wasn’t. She wondered briefly how it was still in business, then recalled it was owned at a few degrees of separation by a local crime family. It was merely a front, a money laundromat where the only suds were occasionally in the beer.
There was a young man playing the fruit machine in the corner, his shoulders toiling like it was a workout, and an older man sitting at the bar, staring into space as if seeking the meaning of life. The barman – the same one who’d been on duty the first time she’d been in – was leaning on the counter looking at his phone. A TV high above the gantry was tuned into a sports channel but the sound was turned down.
Bill Sawyer walked in. Rebecca noticed that his limp wasn’t so evident these days. He’d injured it falling from a Land Rover while pursuing a wife beater. He glanced around, then moved directly to Rebecca and sat down opposite, his hand automatically curling round the glass.
‘Hope this is the good stuff and not some rotgut they make in the bath,’ he said.
She shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I just asked for a whisky.’
He rolled his eyes and took a sip. It seemed to come up to standard because he didn’t say anything further. Not even thanks. Prince Charming as ever. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Seems Freddy Barclay might have turned his toes up. I checked with a pal. They found a body this morning in Freddy’s flat in Inchferry.’
He took another sip. ‘My mate doesn’t know. Could be natural causes.’
‘Post mortem’s not done yet. These things aren’t done right away, you know – this is real life, not crime fiction. So it might turn up some exotic poison delivered by a blowpipe but my mate didn’t have any details. I’d say it was possible it was a heart attack but I don’t think old Freddy, if it’s him, had one.’
‘Do they have a time of death?’
He gave her a disapproving look. ‘Sometime between the last time he was seen alive and when the body was found lying on the knock-off Persian rug in front of the fire.’
‘I love it when you’re precise.’
‘It’s a gift.’
‘He was found this morning, right?’
‘That’s what the jungle drums are saying.’
‘Do you know exactly when?’
‘About ten-ish, I think.’
Rebecca took this in. Daniella had called her at about half eleven. How the hell did her boss find out so quickly?
She scanned the room behind her. ‘I take it none of these people are Jacko McKay.’
He didn’t even turn around. ‘You take it correctly. But don’t worry. He’ll be here. He always comes in round about lunchtime, sits at the bar, reads the Racing Post and has a cheese-and-onion toastie washed down with a half-pint of the hostelry’s best lager.’
‘Creature of habit, is he?’
As if on cue, the door opened, letting some daylight into the dingy interior. Rebecca saw a heavily-built man with biceps that bulged like sausage meat in a tight skin. He was wearing a pair of work denims and scuffed work boots, and had a denim jacket hooked over his shoulder by one finger. His hair was long and slicked back; his face cracked and slapped about a bit by the elements. He looked like a rock singer from the sixties who’d had a hard paper round.
Sawyer glanced over his shoulder then nodded to Rebecca. ‘Just call me Royal Mail – I always deliver.’
He stood up and walked slowly towards the man, who was now at the bar exchanging pleasantries with the barman. Sawyer positioned himself between McKay and the door.
‘How’s it going, Jacko?’ he said.
As McKay turned, Rebecca saw a look of surprise turn to fear then give way to a confident smirk. ‘Mr Sawyer, no’ seen you for ages, neither I have.’
‘Can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, Jacko. I’m kinda leaning towards the second option.’
If McKay was hurt, he didn’t show it. Instead, he smiled. ‘Aye, same for me, Mr Sawyer. No offence.’
The barman brought McKay a half-pint. He turned to pick it up, took a sip and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before he said, ‘So what brings you to Barney’s, Mr Sawyer? The cheese-and-onion toasties?’
Sawyer waved a hand. ‘Nah, I’ve had my ration of salmonella for this month, thanks. I need a wee word.’
There was confidence in McKay’s grin. ‘A wee word, is it? You’re no’ the police any more, Mr Sawyer.’
‘This is true.’
‘I don’t need to speak to you if I don’t want to.’
‘This is also true.’
‘So why should I?’
Sawyer thought about this for a second. ‘Courtesy.’
There was a look in the other man’s eyes that told Rebecca the idea of courtesy was not uppermost in his mind. Sawyer saw it, too, because he said, ‘Tell you what, Jacko. You come and have a wee chat and my friend over here will treat you to your half-pint and toastie. How does that sound?’
McKay looked in Rebecca’s direction and she saw the familiar appraising look that some men give young women. A crawling eye, up and down, round and about. He probably didn’t even know he was doing it. Finally, he nodded and carried his glass to the table, leaving Sawyer to signal to the barman to bring the toastie when it was ready.
When they were all settled, McKay asked, ‘So what’s this all about, eh?’
Sawyer gave Rebecca a nod.
‘Freddy Barclay,’ she said.
A slight frown. ‘Freddy? Who are you anyhow, darling?’
She let the darling go by. ‘My name’s Rebecca Connolly. I’m a reporter.’ She paused. ‘And I’m not your darling.’ The hell with letting it go by, she thought. His groping glance had annoyed her already.
The frown was replaced by his cocky grin. ‘Okay, okay – didn’t mean anything by it.’ He glanced at Sawyer. ‘Wee bit touchy, is she not?’
‘Don’t look at me, pal,’ said Sawyer. ‘I’m no’ your darling either.’
McKay returned his confident smile to Rebecca. ‘A reporter? You going to put me in the paper?’
‘No. This is a personal thing,’ she said. ‘Freddy Barclay?’
‘Why you asking about him?’
‘When was the last time you saw him?’
He blew out his cheeks. ‘God, days ago. Maybe weeks. Can’t right remember. Why? What’s so interesting about old Freddy?’
‘He’s dead, Jacko. Or at least he might be. They found a body in his flat. But given he lives in such a shithole I don’t fancy he Airbnbs it much. So the corpse is probably him,’ said Sawyer, giving Rebecca time to study the man’s reaction. The surprise was just a fraction too slow, she thought.
‘Sorry to hear that,’ Jacko said, his acting skills not quite reaching the heights of believability. ‘He was okay, was old Freddy.’
McKay’s tone took a reproving edge. ‘Aye, okay, Mr Sawyer. Maybe he wasn’t your cup of tea but he was always brand new with me. He was all right, so he was.’
‘Pardon me if I don’t lose any sleep over his passing,’ said Sawyer. ‘He was a thief and an arsehole. One only steals but the other stinks.’
‘You always were all heart, Mr Sawyer.’
Rebecca brought the conversation back on track. ‘Was he working on anything that you know of, Mr McKay?’
‘Working on anything? Like what?’
She sighed. ‘You know what I mean.’
‘Far as I know he was going straight. Was doing odd jobs and that. He was pretty handy with a hammer and a screwdriver.’
Sawyer snorted again. McKay ignored him.
Rebecca took a gamble. ‘Did he ever mention JustU Insurance?’
The barman brought McKay his toastie and it gave him the chance to make a show of thinking. His brow wrinkled. A hand even went to his chin. As an act it wasn’t going to have Benedict Cumberbatch seeking Universal Credit. ‘JustU? Aye, seen ’em on the box. With that stupid tosser that does that dumb game show. An insurance company, right?’
Hence the word ‘insurance’ in my question, Rebecca thought, but didn’t vocalise. She had risked antagonising him by fending off the ‘darling’ use; she didn’t want to do it again. ‘Yes, based in Glasgow.’
‘Nah,’ he said, lips working as if he was chewing it over along with the bite of the toastie he had just taken. ‘Never heard him mention them at all.’
Sawyer’s phone rang and he stood up, stepped away from the table to take it. Rebecca stared McKay in the face. Paused a beat. Then said, ‘You ever called them yourself?’
It was a shot in the dark, but if by some chance Freddy was dead before the call had been made and if she was right in her sense that Jacko had feigned surprise at the news of Freddy’s death, then it was just possible he was the one who had made the call.
His smile seemed nervous to her now. ‘Me? Naw, darling, not got any insurance, me.’
She ignored the ‘darling’ again because she saw Sawyer looking at her as he spoke on the phone, his face crinkled as if he couldn’t quite grasp what he was being told.
She asked, ‘You sure about that, Mr McKay?’
‘Straight up, love. Unemployed, so I am. None of they bastarding companies would give me the time of day. I’ve got a pre-existing condition anyway.’
Sawyer had hung up and was back at the table, catching Jacko’s last statement. ‘Aye, Jacko, sticky fingers are a terrible affliction.’ He jerked his head towards Rebecca. ‘We’re done here, Becks.’
‘Hang on, Bill, I’ve got . . .’
He gave her a pointed stare. ‘We’re done here, Becks.’
Rebecca took the hint and, without saying anything further to McKay, stood up, walked to the bar to pay for his lunch and followed Sawyer out. She heard McKay spray a goodbye with a mouthful of bread and cheddar.
Sawyer stopped in the lane outside the bar’s door. ‘That was my mate down at Inshes.’ Inshes was where the Inverness Police HQ was.
‘Okay,’ she said.
‘Seems he was a bit previous when he told me Freddy Barclay was no longer with us.’
Rebecca gave him a quizzical look. ‘There was no body in his flat?’
‘Oh aye, there was a body – it just wasn’t Freddy . . .’
READ PART 6 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.