When the next call was pumped onto her screen, Daniella was thinking of dialling Rebecca’s number. She could let the incoming caller go, but that was a path that led to the SUSO room. And that she could do without. She took the call and spent the next ten minutes discussing a claim for a freezer that had failed and thawed out what, if Daniella’s calculations were correct, worked out close to three cows, a sheep and a small, but vibrant chicken colony. As she listened to the claimant she checked the clock. Her afternoon break was due in five minutes. She would call Rebecca then.
While the caller moaned on about the loss of half the UK’s meat mountain, Daniella’s head was still spinning from the encounter with her boss. After he had threatened to call the police, Daniella had walked out of the room, figuring she was either dead in the water because she had screwed up on protocol or would live a bit longer if Kevin Brian wasn’t quite ready to give up on the chance of a night with her. That she would rather pull her fingernails out through her eyeballs with hot wires than touch the man was lost on the idiot. He’d smiled as she’d left the SUSO and, for a moment, she had the glorious idea of collecting up every bottle of nail polish remover she could lay her hands on and pouring it over Kevin’s shiny automotive pride and joy.
The caller with the meat fetish was asking if Daniella was listening and was none too happy when Daniella informed her that that not only was the maximum claim limited to two hundred quid but that there was a fifty-pound excess to pay.
‘Come on, hen,’ the caller had said. ‘The top drawer in my freezer’s worth more than that.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Daniella, ‘but that’s the policy.’
Daniella saw her mobile light up and Rebecca’s name popped into view.
‘Would you like to proceed with the claim?’ Daniella asked.
‘What will it do to my premium when I renew?’ was the answer.
Double it, probably.
‘I can’t confirm that, I’m afraid,’ Daniella lied.
‘I’ll think about it.’ The caller vanished before Daniella could utter the required words prompted by her screen. She hit the answer button on her mobile and caught Rebecca’s call before it could be diverted to voicemail.
‘Rebecca, can you give me one minute to get off this floor? There are people around here with ears like World War Two radar dishes,’ she said, glaring at her neighbour who was affecting an appalling impression of not listening in.
Daniella hit the claims floor exit door and dropped two flights of stairs to the main reception. For privacy she stepped out onto the pavement and instantly regretted not lifting her coat from the back of her chair. The Glasgow winter wind was carrying an icy breath from the far north.
‘Bloody hell,’ she said into the phone. ‘It’s Baltic here in Glasgow. Are there polar bears roaming wild in Inverness?’
‘You don’t know Inverness well, do you?’ Rebecca replied. ‘It’s not all glens, mountains and tartan up here. There are some places where they would take the first polar bear they saw, skin it, sell the fur on eBay, flog the meat in the pub and use the bones to beat each other up.’
‘We’re less subtle down here. Where I live they’d find another bear and bet on the fight.’
Rebecca laughed. ‘Look. I’ve got some news.’
‘So have I.’
Daniella moved around the corner of the building to where the nicotine lepers hung out, standing far enough away that they couldn’t hear, but not far enough that their smoke didn’t flood her lungs. She coughed.
‘Just topping up on my secondary lung cancer quota for the week.’
‘Daniella, is your boss going to fire you?’
‘Only if I don’t sleep with him.’
‘Threatened to go to the police unless we played happy couples at his private club tonight.’
‘I can deal with him. Anyway, what’s your news?’
‘Your man, Freddy Barclay.’
‘So you heard the conversation with my boss?’
‘Until you had to hang up. Smart move.’
‘I thought I’d need a witness and I was right. Kevin knew Freddy’s surname was Barclay. Freddy never told me that on the call.’
‘That puts your boss right in the frame with this nonsense.’
‘And this guy Freddy is now dead.’
‘Freddy’s not dead, Daniella,’ said Rebecca. ‘At least not that I know of.’
‘So why does my boss think he is?’
‘Maybe he’s screwing with you, or maybe it’s because the police found a body in Freddy’s flat.’
‘In Freddy’s flat? Where? In Inverness?’
‘Freddy’s from Inverness?’
‘No, originally from Glasgow, but he’s lived up here for a while and knows every unlocked window and door for five miles in any direction, apparently.’
‘He’s a thief?’
‘To the jimmy in his boxers.’
‘Hope you mean a crowbar and it’s not a pet name for anything.’
Daniella smiled as she tried to minimise her breathing, another wave of smoke drifting over her. The sky was darkening as late afternoon swept in. The wind decided it hadn’t been trying hard enough and found a few more miles per hour to strip the heat from Daniella’s body.
‘So, if you don’t think this guy Freddy’s dead, Rebecca, who is dead and what has Freddy to do with it? And who in the hell is telling you all this?’
‘Who’s telling me? A trusted source, that’s who.’
‘Who’s this source?’
‘Look, I’m a reporter. I don’t reveal my sources. Everyone knows that.’
‘We get tip-offs all the time in the insurance world about people up to no good. Bogus claims. Over-insured. Lying. We never reveal who grasses up either. That way people feel safe to tell us stuff.’
‘Who knew? Anyway, as I said, it’s not Freddy we need to worry about.’
‘So why did he call me?’
‘I’m not sure he did.’
‘I think another piece of detritus called you.’
‘Who? The dead person?’
Rebecca paused and Daniella felt she was ordering her thoughts. Daniella understood – the revelation about the body in the flat made little sense at the moment.
‘Does the name Stephen Crammond mean anything to you?’
Crammond, Kevin’s boss. The lech. She slumped against a wall as last year’s Christmas party filled her memory cells. Attendance was compulsory. Which Daniella felt was, if not illegal, at a minimum, immoral – but her firm wasn’t overly fussed about such things. The do was a manky affair that thrived in a company that seemed to have missed the memo on political correctness for at least a decade.
‘Are you still there?’ said Rebecca, interrupting Daniella’s thoughts. ‘Do you know Stephen Crammond?’
‘I know a Stephen Crammond. Why?’
‘How do you know him?’
The Christmas party had descended into chaos earlier than usual. The private function suite in the Alba Club had an open bar. Well stocked, free and fatal. Untethered from their desks, her colleagues had descended on the booze with the fervour of desert-thirsty locusts. Less than an hour after the start of the evening Daniella had decided enough was enough and, halfway through a meal that few were paying attention to, she’d feigned illness and left, only to be trailed out of the room by Stephen Crammond.
Stephen was a board director with a reputation for fishing the claims floor for his next conquest. He couldn’t be a more unreconstructed throwback to the seventies if he tried. Daniella had swerved his interest a few times over the years, and when HR finally stepped in and put a stop to his unwanted attentions, Crammond had been shipped north to some ‘special project’ – a euphemism for getting sidelined. But he had come back in late December. The story went that he owned thirty per cent of the company and had threatened to sell it. And that would have given the buyers controlling interest. Every director would have then been locked into a buy-out clause that meant working for the new guys for three years before getting a pay-out, and only if they hit a hard set of financial numbers. None of them wanted this. Crammond was also rumoured to have dirt on every board member. Which was why he’d been sidelined and not fired for his indiscretions.
‘Crammond is Kevin’s boss. A director of JustU,’ said Daniella, rubbing her hand on the rough brickwork behind her before adding, ‘We have history.’
Rebecca sighed down the line. ‘Well, if it’s the same guy then he’s in Raigmore mortuary.’
Daniella remembered Stephen following her into the lobby at the party, where fate had intervened in the shape of a knee to the balls when he’d tried to kiss her and the appearance of Mitch Williams, the HR director, who had spotted Stephen’s swift exit when she’d left. Daniella had expected more comeback. After all, her groin shot had been severe enough for Crammond to vomit across the granite-tiled floor of the club’s entrance – in full view of a couple of dozen members.
‘I can’t say I’m going to cry if it’s him in the morgue,’ Daniella said.
‘That much of a dick?’
‘And then some. He was the director who was guiding my boss to a future elevated position in the company. When Crammond got pushed off site up north, Kevin vanished into his shell. But since Crammond came back Kevin’s been acting as if he could wade through shit and come out smelling of Daz.’
‘Crammond was up north?’
‘Some enforced leave in Inverness, I think.’
‘Most of last year. He arrived back just before Christmas.’
‘And your boss and Crammond are friends?’
‘Thick as. But what’s he got to do with the dead body in Freddy’s flat? Is it Crammond?’
‘Don’t know exactly, but I have managed to learn one freaky thing.’
‘I need to go, but try this on for size – somebody tried to saw a finger off the body . . .’
READ PART 7 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.