When the computer fed Daniella Coulstoun 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?’
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.’
The line went dead. Rebecca knew Daniella was in trouble and that annoyed her as the woman was a friend. She stopped for a minute and thought about that. A friend. Was she? She had friends, not many certainly, but was Daniella really one of them? An acquaintance. A source. But a friend? No matter, Rebecca felt rage at the tone Daniella’s boss was taking, like a brat with all the Smarties. Definitely a crisis hoarder with a garage full of toilet roll.
But Freddy Barclay. Freddy Barclay. That name rang a bell. Freddy Barclay . . .
She laid her own phone down, still trying to place the name. Something recently. Something here in Inverness. What the hell was it?
She picked up her phone again, found the number she was looking for and punched the green button. She listened to the ringing, wondering why it was taking him so long to answer. It would be just like him to ignore her call. Or have left the house without his mobile. He answered just before she expected to be bumped to voicemail.
‘Aye, what?’ said Bill Sawyer, winner of Inversneckie’s Charm Award three years running.
‘What sort of way is that to answer the phone?’
‘I knew it was you. And I answered accordingly.’
‘You love me really.’
‘Aye.’ He had a way of making an affirmative response sound like ‘hell, no’. ‘What do you want, Becks?’
‘Right down to business, is it? No time for chit-chat?’
‘I’m busy, love. And we don’t chit-chat.’
‘Always a first time.’
She heard him exhale. ‘Becks, you only call me when you want something. Sometimes it pays me, other times it’s a freebie. The question is: which is it this time?’
‘Option number two.’
He grunted but didn’t hang up.
Rebecca took that as a good sign. She pressed on. ‘Does the name Freddy Barclay mean anything to you?’
‘That bampot? Why you asking?’
Good question, she thought. ‘I just heard the name, and it was familiar and I knew my favourite former detective sergeant with Scotland’s finest would remind me who he is.’
‘Favourite? I’m the only former DS you know. Probably the only cop who’ll talk to you.’
Rebecca knew a DCI with the local force but she wasn’t about to pick up the phone to her anytime soon. ‘Okay . . . So, Freddy Barclay. Who is he?’
‘Small-time sticky-finger merchant, moved up here from Glasgow years ago. Will lift anything that isn’t nailed down. No, strike that, he’d take the bloody nails, too.’
That’s why his name was familiar. She had covered some of his court appearances.
Sawyer asked, ‘What’s he done now?’
‘He’s dead, it seems.’
‘Really? Was he crushed by something that fell off the back of a lorry?’
‘I don’t know. All I’ve heard is he’s dead. Did he work alone?’
Sawyer paused to think. ‘He used to neighbour up with Jacko McKay, who did the bogus workman thing – you know, conned his way into old folks’ houses and robbed them blind. Jacko’s an ID thief, too. He’d steal the identity of anyone they robbed and milk it for all it was worth. To call him a scumbag would be a compliment.’
‘Where can I find this Jacko McKay?’
‘It’s nearly lunchtime so he’ll probably be in Barney’s in the Old Town. You know it?’
Rebecca knew it. She had been introduced to its delights a few months before. ‘I need to speak to him. Can you help me?’
‘What’s this about, Becks?’
‘I don’t know, I really don’t. Freddy Barclay’s dead and it may not be natural causes. I’ve got a friend’ – there was that word again – ‘who may be in trouble over whatever happened and I want to help her.’
‘So you’re working a story?’
She thought about this. Was it a story? Of course it was a story. Everything was a story now.
‘It may be, it may not. But if you meet me at Barney’s I’ll fill you in.’
She was banking on his curiosity getting the better of his need to be an awkward bastard. She knew Bill Sawyer well. He was gruff and unpleasant on the outside and that covered an equally gruff and unpleasant interior. But he was a cop, retired or not, and she hoped his copper’s nose was twitching like a hay fever sufferer in a wheat field. A hack’s gut and a copper’s nose. Other body parts are available.
‘Okay,’ he said, a sigh clearly evident in the two syllables. ‘I’ll be there in half an hour.’
Daniella’s boss had insisted that they talk ‘in private’, in the team room, never a good sign. It was the room where the company hosted the dreaded training courses or the even less appealing one-to-one remedial coaching for those who had transgressed the endless list of company instructions, rules and regulations. The Shape Up or Ship Outroom. Or as it was colloquially known, the SUSO. Time in the SUSO was never good.
‘Mr Brian,’ Daniella said as she sat down behind one of the school desks that gave the room even more of a teacher/pupil vibe, ‘I—’
‘I’ll do the talking,’ he said, cutting her dead.
Kevin Brian was five years younger than Daniella. On the company’s fast-track management programme, he was one of the shooting stars who the board fawned over. He had a guardian angel in the Operations Director, a lech called Stephen Crammond. Kevin could do no wrong. Bulletproof. Knew it, used it and abused it.
‘This is serious, Daniella,’ Kevin said, perching his skinny arse on the lecture table at the front of the room. He didn’t speak directly to Daniella, preferring to stare out over the car park beyond the windows – checking, as he did a dozen times a day, that his fresh-out-of-the-wrapper Porsche Boxster was safe and sound.
‘Mr Brian,’ Daniella said. ‘I thought it was a crank call.’
‘And, Daniella,’ Kevin said. ‘That’s where the problem lies. You “thought”. And what do we say about that in JustU?’
‘Don’t think, ask.’ Daniella sighed as she repeated the sickening management mantra.
‘Spot on. Don’t think, ask. And you didn’t ask, did you?’
The urge to stand up and smash Kevin’s head into the desk rose as a living breathing monster in Daniella’s mind.
Stand up quickly.
Three steps forward.
Grab both ears by the lobes.
Connect his forehead to the desk.
Crack it like an egg.
With a smile.
‘Okay, Mr Brian,’ she said. ‘Shall I pack my bags?’
Kevin turned his attention away from the car park and looked at her. ‘Is that what you want, Daniella? Can you afford that?’
It was exactly what she wanted to do, had been for an age. She wanted to sling on her coat, pick up her bag, flick a double-handed V at the entire floor and make for the exit, and do it all with velocity. But her lifestyle, poor as it was, couldn’t stand the salary amputation and Kevin knew that.
‘I want to know what you want?’ she said.
‘Me,’ Kevin muttered, returning his gaze to his car. ‘Well, I want to put this little episode behind us. For you to get back to your job. For you to say nothing about what has happened and then to join me for a drink this evening.’
Daniella snapped her head up. ‘A drink?’
‘Eh . . .’
‘I’m a member of a small club that’s open late. They have some very nice private rooms.’
Daniella got the game in an instant. She was in the Shape Up or Ship Outroom, only now it was the Shut Up and Put Out room.
‘I think I’m being quite reasonable, given what has happened,’ Kevin said, eyes still ranging over the silver paintwork of his Porsche. ‘I mean, I really should call the police.’
But you won’t. Not yet.
‘I know that people make mistakes,’ he continued. ‘And I’m a forgiving soul.’
No, you’re not.
‘And a quiet evening with just the two of us would be lovely.’
It bloody wouldn’t.
‘So, are we good to go?’ he asked, eyes now counting the ceiling tiles.
Something stank here, and it wasn’t the sexual blackmail that Kevin was throwing around like a fire hose. If this guy, Freddy Barclay . . . Her head slammed on the handbrake. Barclay? Freddy Barclay. The guy on the phone hadn’t told her his surname. He’d refused to give it. She thought back to the conversation with Kevin at her desk.
‘Freddy Barclay told you he was going to be killed. And you said, and did, nothing.’
That’s what Kevin had said as he’d hung over her shoulder. How did he know the guy’s name was Barclay?
The stink in the room was getting worse. Kevin looked at her expectantly. Clearly he thought he had enough to force her out for a drink with him.
She stood up. ‘I’m out of here,’ she spat at him.
‘Daniella,’ Kevin said as she headed for the door, ‘if you’re not up for a drink then maybe it would be better if I called in the police right away. It’s entirely your choice.’
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 . . .’
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 . . .’
‘Sorry,’ Rebecca said to Sawyer beside her, as she hung up on Daniella. ‘Had to speak to my friend.’
Sawyer shrugged, a familiar gesture that could mean okay or piss off and all stops in-between. His focus was on the roadway leading to the supermarket car park. Jacko had parked his battered old Commer van there. It was also only three spaces away from where Sawyer himself had left his car. Now they were sitting in it, waiting for Jacko to return.
‘That was lucky, him parking just there,’ said Rebecca.
‘Closest place to park for Barney’s,’ Sawyer answered.
‘You saw it there when you arrived, didn’t you?’ she said. ‘That’s how you were so confident he was going to turn up in the pub.’
‘I’m a sleuth – it’s what I do,’ he said, a little smile tickling his lips. ‘I arrived at roughly the same time as him and I saw him go into the supermarket first.’
Rebecca tutted. ‘As far as sleuthing goes, it’s hardly Sherlock Holmes, is it?’
‘Hey, much of police work is down to luck. Right place, right time, right instincts. Same as your game.’
It was almost exactly what her father had once told her. He’d been a DCI in Glasgow, and when she’d expressed her desire to enter journalism he had ramped up his pearls of wisdom in the hope that she would become responsible and always do the job properly. That all stopped when he died.
While they waited for Jacko to finish his toastie and make his way back to his van, Sawyer enlightened Rebecca on what his contact had told him. Initial reports had suggested it was Freddy dead in the flat mostly because it was Freddy’s flat. Sawyer now knew there was blunt force trauma to the back of the head, possibly caused when said head hit the corner of a coffee table. The paramedics who arrived obviously didn’t know Freddy Barclay from Freddie Flintoff, while the two uniforms were barely out of nappies and had never had the pleasure of feeling the grease on his collar. How the news had reached Daniella’s boss Kevin Brian – never trust a man with two first names, Rebecca’s dad once said – was anybody’s guess. It wasn’t until a time-served sergeant arrived that the error was uncovered, though, at first, they had no idea who the deceased was because his body had been picked clean.
‘For that alone, my money is now on Freddy as the prime suspect,’ said Sawyer.
A high-end SUV parked in the street outside the flat had been out of place, not the least because it was a left-hand drive with personalised plates . . .
‘Flash bugger,’ said Sawyer.
. . . that proved to belong to none of the nearby residents so the decision was made to force entry. The car belonged to Stephen Crammond and it needed biometric access – namely, fingerprints – to both open the door and to start.
‘Freddy, and I’m assuming this here, had obviously known this and tried to saw off this guy’s finger,’ said Sawyer, ‘but it’s not as easy you might think. Especially when you’re using a tiny wee hacksaw with a rusty blade. He gave in halfway through.’
Rebecca had checked out Stephen Crammond online. She’d found him on LinkedIn and showed Sawyer the image of a man with the self-satisfied smirk of someone who thought his bank balance was the keys to the kingdom.
‘So what do you think happened?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Sawyer, twisting the ignition while squinting through the windscreen. Rebecca followed his gaze and saw Jacko swaggering towards his van. ‘But I can make an educated guess. Freddy and this guy Crammond have a falling out. By the looks of him I think it would be easy. There’s a struggle, Crammond goes down, Freddy robs him blind – maybe to delay identification – then realises Crammond’s motor is parked outside and fancies taking that, too, but his surgical skills are somewhat wanting and he flees the locus like an MP with overdue expense receipts.’
‘Where does Jacko come in then?’
Sawyer slid his car into gear, allowing the van to reverse and turn towards the exit. ‘Buggered if I know.’ He pulled out and nosed after the van. ‘But, got to admit, I’m bloody curious.’
Rebecca was impressed by how skilfully Sawyer kept his distance as he followed Jacko, even in Inverness which was busy but hardly Downtown Manhattan. Judging by the direction, Rebecca surmised the man was heading to Inchferry.
She called Daniella back while Sawyer tailed Jacko and updated her on Sawyer’s theory regarding what happened in the flat and the attempted amputation.
‘So that explains the finger,’ said Daniella, ‘but what connection does Crammond have with this Freddy guy? And who phoned me? Was it Freddy or someone else?’
‘Can you get access to the recording of the call? That might help.’
There was a silence on the line as Daniella considered this. ‘I suppose I can try but I’d lay ten pennies to the pound that Kevin has it locked down somehow by now – and even if he hasn’t, the system logs who accesses it.’
‘Do what you can,’ said Rebecca and ended the conversation as Sawyer pulled up a few cars away from where Jacko had come to a halt.
Jacko climbed out of the van and stood in the street, looking up and down as if checking the coast was clear, before he swung open a wooden gate and stepped up a path to a semi-detached house that had seen better days.
‘This his place?’ Rebecca asked.
‘Nah, our boy Jacko lives up the Crown.’
Rebecca gave Sawyer a surprised glance. The Crown was upmarket and they were sitting in a more down-at-heel end of the town.
‘What?’ he said. ‘Just because he’s a ned, you think he has to live here?’
She felt shame at her stereotyping of an entire neighbourhood.
‘Jacko’s a posh boy gone wrong,’ Sawyer said. ‘Inherited the house from his old mum, God rest her. My opinion? His criminal activities put her in an early grave.’
Jacko was still giving the street close scrutiny, but they were parked far enough away that she was confident he wouldn’t spot them.
‘Right, but only now does he check that no one is watching or following him?’ Rebecca said.
‘Nobody said you had to be the Brain of Britain to be a small-time crook,’ said Sawyer.
‘Yes, but he’s abusing the privilege.’
‘Don’t knock it – makes it easier for us.’
‘So what do we do now?’
Sawyer leaned over and opened the glove compartment. ‘Well, we could sit here and wait and see who goes in or out.’
He straightened again, an extendable baton in his hand. ‘Or we can go play knock-knock, who’s there . . . ?’
Before she could say anything to stop him, Sawyer was out of the car, the baton tucked under the sleeve of his jacket, and striding up the road. She felt she had no option but to follow. He was at the door of the house and rattling the letterbox before she could catch up.
‘You think this is a good idea?’ she said quietly.
He wiggled his eyebrows at her – he was enjoying this, she realised – and then faced the door as they heard a key turning. Jacko’s face appeared in the partially opened door, his eyes widening when he took in who he was now facing.
‘Hello, sir, have you found Jesus yet?’ said Sawyer, throwing his shoulder against the wood, forcing it open.
Jacko protested, ‘Hey, you can’t—’
‘I know, son,’ said Sawyer, pushing him out of the way and stepping over the threshold, ‘but I’m doing it anyway. I’m impulsive like that.’
He moved down the narrow hallway towards a door to the left. Rebecca had been in similar Inchferry homes and knew it led to the living room. She stepped inside the hallway, giving Jacko a smile. ‘I’m with him,’ she said.
‘You can’t do this,’ Jacko said. ‘I’ll call the police.’
Sawyer had stopped in the living-room doorway and was staring at something inside. ‘You do that, son, you just do that. We’ll all be very interested to meet your pal here.’
When he gave Rebecca a quick nod to join him, she saw that he was at once puzzled and surprised. There was a man standing in front of a two-bar electric fire. She did everything she could to stop her jaw from dropping but failed.
‘Stephen Crammond, I presume,’ she said.
When Rebecca hung up, Daniella had stood in the lane outside her office for a few moments, trying to work out what in the hell was going down, but, however she stacked it, the call from ‘Freddy’ this morning was looking like it was key. She decided that thinking out in the cold was a stupid idea and hurried back into the reception, welcoming the warmth but bumping into Kevin Brian at the same time.
‘Why are you not at your desk?’ he asked.
‘I’m on my break.’
‘Which finished two minutes ago.’
Daniella looked up at the clock above reception and cursed. He was right. What an arsehole.
‘I’m on my way back up.’
‘You’re not doing too well today.’
Daniella ignored the jibe and tried to walk past him.
‘Also, I forgot to ask,’ he said, putting an arm out to stop her. ‘Earlier this morning I heard you mention Stephen Crammond’s name.’
‘When you were in the canteen.’
‘What do you mean? Are you stalking me?’
Kevin brushed his outstretched hand across the top of her arm. ‘Just looking out for my staff. I heard you mention his name when you were at the vending machine.’
Daniella thought back. Sure, she had called Rebecca earlier, when she was at the machine for coffee, to find out what Rebecca’s latest thoughts were about Kevin and their suspicions on him. But she was sure she hadn’t mentioned Crammond’s name. Why would she? It was Kevin that was at it.
‘You were talking to Jean Muir,’ said Kevin.
So not when she was on the phone. She’d chatted to Jean after the call.
‘You said that things were catching up with Stephen. What did you mean?’
Jean, a newbie on the claims floor, had buttonholed Daniella about Crammond and his return from the wilds of the north. Jean had only started a week ago and Crammond had already squirrelled her into his office for a ‘quiet chat’a couple of times. Daniella knew the signs. It was how the bastard worked. Executive privilege. Invite the new starts for a chat with a board director, bum them up a bit, promise a golden career and then try and get the knickers off them. The talk of the steamie was that Crammond had burned his last bridge a few days back. Four women had complained about him since he’d returned, and, Jean had told Daniella, just after the last complaint was made official yesterday, he’d left early, looking as scared as a lamb in a butcher’s shop – and not turned up for work this morning. Daniella had told Jean that things were catching up with Crammond – and that was the line that Kevin had obviously heard.
‘I’m not talking about this here,’ Daniella said. ‘Your boss is being investigated for sexual misconduct.’
‘He’s done nothing wrong.’
‘So why has he disappeared?’
‘He hasn’t. He’s up north for . . .’ Kevin stopped. ‘Why am I telling you anything? The man is innocent.’
‘Aye, you would say that, wouldn’t you? Coming from the man who just tried to blackmail me into sleeping with him, that’s bloody rich.’
Kevin spun his head around, frantically checking that no one was within earshot. ‘Throwing accusations around like that can have serious consequences.’
‘Like calling the police?’
The revolving door turned and a few of the smokers came in, exhaling as they entered. Kevin backed away towards a corner of the reception area where a clutch of leatherette seats were earmarked for the unwashed to occupy while waiting to be granted entry to JustU. Daniella followed Kevin.
‘Eight o’clock tonight,’ said Kevin, once the place was empty.
Daniella shook her head and waved at the receptionist who was currently playing with his phone. The receptionist looked up and waved back. Daniella was just making sure that someone was keeping an eye on her.
‘Let’s make this really simple,’ said Daniella, stepping in close enough that she almost gagged on Kevin’s stale aftershave. ‘I have no intention of going anywhere with you. Not tonight, not tomorrow, not in a million years and a sodding day. Not if your penis was the only male organ available until the universe givesin the ghost. You have less than zero chance of me acceding to any honking little fantasies that are buried in that mass of crap behind the Sherwood forest of nose hairs you have. So, if you want to call the police . . . feel free. Wanker.’
Kevin’s face flushed red, his nose flaring. Almost as an afterthought, he pushed a forefinger into his nose, checking for hairs.
‘Don’t you bad-mouth me, Daniella Coulstoun. I can have you out of here in a split second.’
Daniella lifted her hand, to flick her fringe back from her eyes. Kevin flinched at the movement, anticipating a blow, and she couldn’t help but laugh – a snort that sprayed Kevin with spittle. As he recoiled, Daniella finished smoothing back her locks, taking a little longer than usual over the action and leaving her hand high, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, she would deliver the strike Kevin had anticipated.
‘I mean it, Daniella.’
She thought about walking away and leaving it all alone, but guys like Kevin don’t give in that easily. She knew he still thought he had the upper hand here and she needed to disabuse him of that notion.
‘Kevin,’ she said, lowering her hand to rest on her hip, ‘you are going to do the square root of sod all and I’ll happily tell you why.’ She paused and counted to three in her head before throwing one more word: ‘Wanker.’
Kevin’s face colour deepened a shade. Crimson heading for black. A vein in his neck throbbed. A snake eating a meal too big for it. ‘I’m—’
‘You,’ said Daniella, ‘are going to listen to me and listen good.’
Kevin’s lips quivered and he clenched his wrist harder.
‘So here is why you’ll just piss off to your wee office and think of new ways to lick the arse of that sleazy boss of yours,’ Daniella spat, working her lips around each syllable with relish. ‘When I took that call this morning the man identified himself as Freddy. Freddy only. No surname. Just Freddy.’
‘And,’ was the only word that Kevin could utter.
‘And you told me that a man called Freddy Barclay had died. Not just Freddy. Freddy Barclay.’
‘How did you know his second name?’
Kevin smiled, a gesture designed to put Daniella on the back foot. ‘I checked his file.’
‘I did.’ Still smiling.
‘And how would you be able to do that? The man isn’t known to us. His number was unknown. He came through as a newbie.’
‘He wasn’t a newbie. He just mucked up the automated verification.’
‘The system would still have recognised his number if he was a customer.’
‘He was using a new phone.’
Daniella tapped her forefinger on her temple. ‘Really, Kevin? So how did you find him? All you had was an unknown number and the name Freddy. How did you track him down, genius?’
Kevin hesitated, searching for the answer, wrist taking a pounding.
‘And,’ Daniella threw in with glee, ‘I’m fairly sure if I go upstairs and check the system I’ll find no such person as Freddy Barclay on our system.’
Daniella dredged up her own smile. ‘Oh, I will. Do you want to come up with me now?’
‘Mmm, I’m kind of . . . too busy to . . .’
‘Well, I’m going to check and I’m so confident that he’s not there that I’m going to ask HR to come with me. I’ll need them to access the system if you won’t oblige, and when I do that, I might just mention the little invite to dinner you extended to me and the extenuating circumstances around it.’
Kevin turned away, scrubbing his wrist raw.
‘So, I’m off back to work,’ Daniella said, her voice unwavering, ‘and I’m going to do some checking, and if I can drop you in it, Kevin, then I’ll be very, very happy to do so.’
With this she wheeled away, leaving Kevin to stew. Whatever he was up to, Daniella had no more time to dick around. She needed to get that recording and had just given herself the perfect reason to dig around in the system. If asked, she would tell all. And let Kevin swing.
As she mounted the threadbare carpeted stairs she tried to call Rebecca, but the phone tripped to voicemail. Kevin’s reaction to her words had been more one of personal rejection rather than fear of discovery – and that meant that whatever was going on in Inverness was well beyond Kevin’s pay grade. He was, at best, a puppet in this.
Daniella reached the claims floor and fell into her chair, but didn’t log in. That omission would be noted, but with Kevin downstairs she had some time before his number two took some action and asked what she was up to.
To log in and extract data wasn’t something she was authorised to do, and she’d known that when she’d goaded Kevin. Had she gone to HR they would have taken over and accessed it for her. But for accessing recordings there was a back door that anyone with a single brain cell knew. When any caller came on the system the screen presented the claims assistant with the caller’s history, including the sound files from past calls. Given she had not closed down the policy application process, she could also access the sound file by calling the number back. It might not work. She needed the person to answer their phone; that way, the computer would throw up their details, including all past calls. The number would appear as an 0800 number in their screen. But if ‘Freddy’ wasn’t dead, or the phone belonged to someone else and they answered, she’d have the file she needed.
Daniella did a sweep of the floor. Kevin hadn’t reappeared but his brain had to be working overtime. Ifshe was right and he was just a junior player in the game, then he was probably on his mobile firefighting. Or maybe he was already on the run. Daniella would prefer the latter. The former might mean that far more dangerous people were involved in all of this and, alerted by Kevin, Daniella and Rebecca would be in their sights.
She hit the log-in button on her screen and entered the password. Almost instantly she was fed an incoming call and rejected it. She now had a few minutes, at most, to get the info from the computer. Her late log-in and call rejection would be acted on. She pulled up the inbound call screen, selected Freddy’s number and instructed the machine to dial it.
The number rang in her ears. Voicemail. She hung up and repeated. Again voicemail. She redialled. Freddy hadn’t sounded too smart, and Daniella knew that redialling quickly and frequently could often result in the person picking up. On the fifth dial, just before the call tripped to answer machine, the line was connected.
‘What?’ came the reply.
Daniella’s screen burst into life. With only one entry from the earlier call it was easy to find the sound file. She right-clicked on it, killing the outbound call at the same time. The menu dropped down from the pointer and she hit copy as Kevin’s number two, a lifer called Marion Mitchell, rose from her station and began to weave purposefully through the rows of bobbing heads towards her.
Daniella opened up the email and dropped the sound file into a new mail. She typed in her own address and, as Marion arrived, hit SEND.
Rebecca’s phone vibrated in her pocket but she ignored it as she stared across the living room at Stephen Crammond. This was beginning to become a miasma of who was dead and who wasn’t. First, they thought the body was Freddy, then it was Crammond, now it wasn’t either. She’d need a synopsis pretty damn soon.
Sawyer, though, seemed to take it all in his stride. ‘You look helluva healthy for a dead man, Mr Crammond.’
Crammond ignored him, shot an angry look at Jacko. ‘Why the hell did you let them in? Who are they?’
‘I didn’t let them in,’ whined Jacko. ‘He forced his way through the door.’
Somewhere a mobile phone rang. No one made to answer it. It seemed to be coming from Jacko’s direction.
Crammond’s lips pursed and Rebecca saw panic beginning to rise. His fingers trembled as he raised a hand to run it through his hair. He swallowed, licked his lips and his eyes darted around the room, as if looking for a way to escape.
‘Who are you people anyway?’ he asked.
‘My name is Rebecca Connolly, and this is Bill Sawyer.’
The phone rang again as Crammond’s eyes flicked towards Rebecca and widened slightly when she said her name. He knew her. Sawyer moved to an archway on his right and peered into the kitchen beyond, no doubt looking to see if Freddy was hiding in there.
The ringing stopped.
Sawyer said, ‘Lovely place, Jacko.’
‘It’s a pal’s.’
‘And where’s this pal now?’
‘He’s away.’ Away. Probably meant jail. Or was Rebecca guilty of stereotyping again? Jacko’s pal could be on holiday or in hospital. ‘I’m taking care of it. He’s got pigeons out the back and I feed them.’
Sawyer laughed. ‘Oh, you’re all heart, Jacko.’
The phone rang again. Definitely coming from Jacko. Probably in his jacket, but again he made no move to answer. She saw another mobile lying on the coffee table. Whose was that?
She looked back at Crammond, who was distinctly unsettled. ‘I think maybe you should tell us what’s going on, Mr Crammond.’
His wavering attention finally rested on a black case sitting on the settee in front of him.
‘Tell them bugger all,’ said Jacko as the mobile rang for a fourth time and he ignored it again.
‘Something tells me you guys are in this way over your heads,’ said Rebecca, wondering what was in the black case and why Crammond seemed so interested in it.
‘Piss off,’ said Jacko. He was growing jittery, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
‘Let’s keep it civil, eh?’ said Sawyer.
‘You can piss off, too,’ said Jacko, who began edging towards the corner of the room.
Rebecca ignored him, retained her focus on Crammond. ‘Mr Crammond . . . Stephen . . . where’s Freddy Barclay?’
It was Jacko who answered. ‘We don’t know where Freddy is, okay?’
‘Okay,’ said Rebecca. ‘So who was it found dead in Freddy’s flat?’ She knew Jacko wasn’t about to offer any form of enlightenment so she stared at Crammond, who was still fixated on the case. That black case.
Jacko’s phone rang again. Still he made no move to answer.
‘God’s sake, Jacko,’ snapped Sawyer, ‘answer the bloody thing, will you?’
‘Answer what? It’s no’ mine ringing . . . Bollocks, it’s . . .’ Jacko fished out the mobile, a cheap supermarket job, from his jacket pocket and hit a button.
‘What?’ he said, then waited a couple of beats before he took it from his ear and gave the screen an angry glare. Whoever it was had hung up.
‘Scammers.’ He thrust the phone back in his pocket.
A silence descended. And Rebecca’s instincts told her to let it run. The quiet made the guilty sing – isn’t that what they say? After a few moments Rebecca moved towards Crammond, who was visibly shaking.
‘Stephen,’ Rebecca said, ‘I think you should tell us what happened. You know who I am, don’t you? And you know Daniella as well . . .’
Crammond raised his eyes from the case and met hers. That hack’s gut told her he was rolling towards the money-shot moment, that he wanted to – no, strike that, needed to – talk. She gave him an encouraging nod. The man cleared his throat. Took a breath. His mouth opened. Closed. Another little cough. Opened again. He was struggling, but they always were at this point. Things had to be going south with a hammer blow for Crammond to feel like fessing up. But he closed his mouth once more, fighting the urge. Rebecca knew she just needed the smallest of levers to open the man’s mouth. But she had nothing.
The silence continued.
A Sergio Leone moment. All that was needed was a mouth organ and some dangling feet.
‘Stephen,’ said Rebecca after a few minutes.
Her phone pinged. She looked at the text: ‘Call NOW.’
Jacko was staring down Crammond, aware that the man was cracking. Sawyer positioned himself between the two. Expecting trouble or, at least, for one of them to make a run for it. She knew his radar, his copper’s nose, was also spiking. Crammond, she thought he could handle; Jacko was a different game.
‘I need to make a call,’ said Rebecca.
‘Now?’ replied Sawyer.
‘Now.’ Her face told him it was serious.
Sawyer smiled. ‘Well, why don’t the three of us retire to the kitchen? I’m fair gasping for a brew.’
‘Look,’ said Jacko. ‘Both of you just get the hell out of here.’
‘Language, Timothy!’ Sawyer said, pointing to the kitchen. ‘I think a cup of the old Rosie Lee would do us all good.’
Jacko crossed his arms. Not for moving.
‘Fair enough,’ said Sawyer. ‘But I’m thinking the alternative to a cup of tea is a wee call to my old station.’
Jacko dropped his arms, tensing.
‘Ah, Jacko,’ Sawyer said, subtly squaring his stance. ‘You wantin’ tae dance?’
Crammond’s head dropped and Rebecca thought he might be crying.
‘Whatever you’re up to, Jacko,’ said Sawyer, ‘it’s not looking like we have a happy ending. So let’s give the lady a moment.’
Jacko jumped at Sawyer but he telegraphed the move and Sawyer easily dipped to one side, pushing Jacko hard in the back as he flew by. Jacko slammed into the wall. Sawyer grabbed his arm and Jacko yelled as Sawyer tested how far up Jacko’s back it could go.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Both of you are going to accompany me to this hovel’s excuse for a kitchen and we’ll all play happy families.’
Sawyer kicked Crammond’s foot and he stood up, a zombie arisen, his brain clearly a mess of conflicted thoughts. Sawyer frogmarched Jacko in front of him and, as the three vanished through the kitchen arch, Rebecca called Daniella.
Sawyer stuck his head back out. ‘For God’s sake, get a move on. If Crammond finds some brave pills I could be struggling here.’
Rebecca nodded to him as Daniella answered.
‘What’s going on?’
Rebecca ran through where they were, who was who and what was going down.
‘Are you safe?’ Daniella asked.
‘Sawyer can handle Jacko.’ Although she wasn’t sure that was true. Crammond, yes. Given the way he was melting down, her gran could handle him – but Jacko? He was a different game.
Daniella wasn’t convinced by Rebecca’s words. ‘Look, I think you’re in danger. I mean it. In fact, I know you’re in danger.’
‘What is it?’
‘I’ve just had my arse kicked for blanking a call and took a strop. A right diva moment. Went off on one and Marion, my supervisor, told me to go to the SUSO room for being a bad girl. I took the chance to do a little surfing as I waited.’
‘I think I know what Crammond was doing up north.’
From the kitchen Rebecca could hear the sound of voices muffled by a kettle working itself up to a boil. She wondered what they were talking about.
‘Do you know much about fraudulent life insurance claims?’ Daniella asked.
‘I’ve covered a few stories about them. Why?’
‘When Kevin was quizzing me on why I’d been talking about Crammond—’
‘Talking about Crammond?’
‘Kevin thought I knew something I didn’t. I was talking to a colleague about him yesterday and Kevin misheard. He must have thought we were closing in on Crammond.’
‘That might explain why Crammond’s up here.’
‘Definitely. I hear he was scared stiff when he left. When we were chatting Kevin told me that Crammond was up north but stopped himself from saying any more. So I did some digging. Do you know that JustU has a small satellite office in Inverness?’
‘And that’s where Crammond was last year?’
‘I think so. It’s a bit of an oddity. No staff and the sole registered address for a life insurance policy called “Peace of Mind”.’
‘Is that unusual?’
‘Yes. Every other policy we sell is registered to this office.’
‘What’s this Peace of Mind insurance?’
‘Life insurance. A basic policy that pays a quarter of a million on death. But that’s not the strange thing.’
There was a bang from the kitchen and then a shout from Sawyer. ‘Jacko, sit your big arse down.’
‘What have you found?’ said Rebecca. ‘I’m not sure we’ve got much time left to chat here.’
‘It’s a scam. The whole thing.’
‘Tell me what you know,’ said Rebecca.
The noise in the kitchen was racking up.
‘Ask about the Peace of Mind Insurance. How many claims have been made. And ask Crammond about a doctor called Shakespeare,’
‘Shakespeare? Robert Shakespeare?’
‘He’s been missing for over a day. I heard it on the news up here this morning.’
‘I’m not telling you again,’ shouted Sawyer from the kitchen. ‘Becks!’
Jacko flew into the room.
‘I need to go. It’s kicking off.’
‘Life insurance!’ shouted Daniella down the phone. ‘Life insurance! That’s what it’s all about. Trust me . . .’
Sawyer was right behind Jacko, bundling him into a chair. ‘Just take a seat.’
‘I’ll kill you,’ screamed Jacko.
Rebecca killed the call to Daniella and Crammond wandered into the living room, his eyes rolling, a lost soul.
‘Can you handle him?’ Rebecca said to Sawyer, tilting her head towards Jacko.
‘Oh, him and I are good as gold,’ Sawyer replied. ‘Isn’t that so, Jacko?’
Jacko’s glower said everything but.
Rebecca watched as Crammond dropped onto the stained sofa.
‘Stephen, we know all about it,’ she said, not really sure she did know all about it but decided to go for it anyway. ‘Shakespeare, the life insurance – everything.’
‘They know sod all,’ shouted Jacko. ‘Sod all. How could they?’
‘It was all an accident,’ Crammond muttered, the dam starting to crack. ‘It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.’
‘Shut up, Stephen.’ Jacko tried to rise but Sawyer pushed him back down.
‘Be a good boy and just keep a lid on it,’ said Sawyer.
Jacko tried to rise again and Sawyer let loose with his patented, good old-fashioned, police-issue haymaker. Jacko’s head snapped back and Sawyer followed up by grabbing his head. ‘Jacko, let the lady talk.’
Rebecca spoke. ‘What wasn’t supposed to happen what way, Stephen?’
‘Shakespeare wasn’t supposed to end up dead. It was an accident.’
The thoughts collided in Rebecca’s mind. Shakespeare. The black case. A doctor’s case. Robert Shakespeare. So Daniella was right.
‘Why don’t you tell us about it?’ she said, gently, and after a few moments, Crammond began to speak.
It was a flood when it came and Rebecca knew to keep quiet lest she disturb the flow. So did Sawyer. Even Jacko kept his mouth shut, now that Sawyer had his head bent back over the chair.
‘It was all supposed to be simple and it had all being going so well,’ said Crammond, his voice low. ‘We’d made a tidy sum, but then Barclay got greedy and it all fell apart. It was Shakespeare’s idea. He’s a local GP. I’ve got a cottage near Invergordon, and when I was there last year I came down with food poisoning. Needed a local doctor and Shakespeare was recommended. A few days after I’d been to see him, I get a call from him saying he wants to chat about insurance. I wasn’t interested. I thought he was looking for a policy. I’d had enough of the bloody stuff. After all the nonsense in Glasgow it was just a pain. But Shakespeare was insistent so I gave in and agreed to meet him. We had dinner and he started to talk about life insurance. He’d signed many death certificates over the years and wondered how easy it would be to fake a death and claim the insurance.’
‘Shut up, Crammond—’ Sawyer cut Jacko off by pulling his head further back. Rebecca wondered how far you could bend a head.
Crammond ignored Jacko and kept talking. ‘I told Shakespeare that it was pretty much impossible. But I knew it wasn’t. It’s been done before. You just have to insure the right person, know how the system really works and rig the policy.’
‘Peace of Mind Insurance,’ said Rebecca, remembering what Daniella had said.
Crammond’s shoulders slumped. ‘Yes.’
‘What is it?’
‘A no-frills policy with a lot of the safeguards we’d normally include taken out.’
Rebecca leaned forwards. ‘And registered to the office here in Inverness.’
‘To keep it at a distance from headquarters. But I knew it could only last so long.’
‘And how did it all work?’
‘As I said, you need the right person to insure.’
‘And then what?’ Rebecca interjected. ‘You kill them?’
‘No,’ Crammond cried. ‘That wasn’t the plan. Once you find your mark you don’t need them to be involved. You just need their identity. But the people we required are hard to find. That’s where Barclay and Jacko came in—’
‘Will you shut the fuck up. I swear I’ll kill you,’ screamed Jacko. Sawyer pulled harder on Jacko’s head and he gagged.
There was no stopping Crammond now. ‘Shakespeare was the one who introduced me to Barclay. He knew him of old. Barclay sold prescription drugs that Shakespeare acquired through the back door. They’d made a good living on it, but Shakespeare needed more money. He was in serious hock to some dodgy people. It was Barclay who recruited Jacko. He knew Jacko was a whizz at ID theft. Barclay would lift wallets and purses, and Jacko would get to work. But only one in thirty or forty people would fit the bill,’ continued Crammond. ‘It all took time. Jacko needed to check the marks out thoroughly. The perfect mark is tough to find. You need someone who’s got no current insurance. Someone who’s single. Lives on their own. Preferably in an out-of-the way spot. A loner. Better still, someone who’s abroad a lot.’
‘And then what?’ Rebecca asked.
‘I’d write up a policy with a bogus beneficiary.’
‘And the doctor stepped in?’ Rebecca guessed.
Crammond stopped, swallowed. ‘Shakespeare would sign off a false death certificate. Then I would intercept the claim and bypass the normal safety checks. It’s easier than it sounds. We pay out millions in life insurance every year. The system to handle it is complicated, but as long as we didn’t get too greedy, there were ways I could smooth the path to a quick payment. After all, we had a policy and we had a death certificate.’
‘And the person you stole the ID from? What if they found out?’
‘That’s why we had to be so careful in who we chose. And even then, I knew there was only a limited time we could run the whole thing before someone found out.’
‘So no one actually died?’
Crammond stared at the floor. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said eventually.
‘You don’t think so?’
‘I never talked to Shakespeare about it.’
‘You mean he might have actually killed someone?’
Crammond stuttered, ‘Maybe? Barclay and Jacko were struggling to find the right type of person. It was taking too long for Shakespeare. He was screaming for more money. When he found a few marks from his own surgery I knew straight off they didn’t fit the bill, but he convinced me to write up the policies anyway.’
‘And those people really needed to die for the insurance to pay out?’ Rebecca guessed, appalled at what she was hearing.
‘I didn’t know about that. Not at the time.’
Rebecca was desperate to ask how Shakespeare had killed but she remained silent. She could guess anyway. Harold Shipman and his ‘end-of-life care’ had a lot to answer for.
‘Anyway,’ Crammond went on, ‘it all went well – until we found out you and that bitch in Glasgow were nosing around.’
‘Daniella said that Kevin earwigged her talking about you’ said Rebecca. ‘I take it your little pet monkey gave you the head’s up after that?’
‘When he phoned I knew I had to try to stop you. But before I could do anything Barclay decided to take matters into his own hands. He made that stupid call this morning to try to put the pair of you off the scent. Shakespeare and I arrived at his flat just after he made it. The fact that he made the call without asking us was bad enough, but he’d also found out that we weren’t being quite truthful about how much we were making on each person . . .’
Jacko snorted. Sawyer released his head a little to let him speak. ‘Aye – bastards . . . twenty-five grand you told me and Freddy. Freddy found out from that bloody girl that it was ten times that. Bastards.’
Crammond ignored him. ‘Barclay went crazy. He started to scream and yell at us, calling us crooks, for God’s sake.’
It was Sawyer’s turn to snort. The irony was not lost on Rebecca either.
Crammond was desperate to get it all out now. ‘Barclay went for Shakespeare, really went for him, and they struggled. I didn’t know what to do. I’m not a fighter. Anyway, they both went down. Shakespeare’s head hit the coffee table. I thought he was unconscious at first but then I realised he wasn’t breathing. Freddy took off right away.’
‘Where is he?’ asked Sawyer
Both Rebecca and Sawyer looked at Jacko.
‘I’ve got no clue, either, so don’t even ask,’ said Jacko, looking a little too relaxed, given that Crammond was implicating him in the whole thing.
He’s biding his time, thought Rebecca.
‘But you have his phone,’ said Rebecca to Jacko, her hack’s gut prompting her again.
‘Barclay dropped it in the fight,’ said Crammond.
Jacko nodded to Crammond. ‘I took it off him in case Freddy tried to call it. I want to know where he’s gone.’
‘I panicked when I saw Shakespeare on the floor,’ said Crammond. ‘I was in deep shit, I knew that. The fraud was bad enough but I knew that whatever Shakespeare did to his patients was going to get out – but I swear blind I knew nothing about that at the time. You have to believe me. If he’d said anything about’ – he paused, swallowed back the word but it came out anyway – ‘murder, I’d have walked there and then.’
Keep telling yourself that, Rebecca thought. It’ll keep you warm in your cell at night.
‘I knew I had to get away, had to somehow buy time to get away. I didn’t know how long it would take before Shakespeare’s body was discovered and I knew Freddy had a girlfriend, but I didn’t know if she lived in or just visited or had a key. I just didn’t know. But I needed some time, breathing space. I don’t know what I was trying to achieve but I thought if I could delay identification of the body, maybe muddy the waters a bit, it would help. Then I could figure what to do.’
Rebecca stretched her back a little. ‘Crammond, are you for real?’
‘I know how it sounds but I remembered reading about the guy they found on Culloden not long ago,’ Crammond said. ‘How the lack of identification held back the investigation for a while. So I thought, if I could do that, I could maybe get away. So I went through Shakespeare’s clothes, removed all his ID and his car keys. Then I found that little hacksaw and began to saw at his finger. I thought it would make it more unusual, maybe even make it look like he was me – after all, my car needs my fingerprints to open it. Maybe the police would guess a thief was trying to take my car and needed my fingerprints. A thief like Barclay. I was desperate, right? Not thinking straight. I thought about taking all of Shakespeare’s fingers. I was thinking maybe Shakespeare’s were on file, him being a doctor and all. If I took them all maybe that would slow down identification.’
‘You were going to cut off all his fingers?’ Rebecca was losing the words to express her incredulity.
‘I started on one,’ Crammond explained. ‘But it was awful. Hacking away at his flesh, trying to cut through the bone . . . Christ . . . I was at it for fifteen minutes but still couldn’t get through the first finger. Every time I started to saw I felt I was going to throw up. I gave up. I just couldn’t do it. I took his case and I called Jacko. He brought me here.’
Sawyer let out a sharp little laugh. ‘See what I mean, Becks? Crooks aren’t geniuses. You ever heard anything so ill-conceived and ridiculous?’
Rebecca asked, ‘How does Kevin Brian fit into all this?’
Crammond wrinkled his brow. ‘Kevin? He doesn’t, not really.’
‘So who told him that Freddy Barclay was supposed to be dead?’
‘I did. The call had been made. It was recorded – Barclay had used his own name, for goodness’ sake. I needed to get you two off the case and get Brian to try and wipe it from the system.’
Sawyer smirked. ‘Brain of bloody Britain . . .’
‘I had to do something,’ pleaded Crammond. ‘So I called Kevin, told him that Barclay was dead and suggested he also use it to throw a scare into Daniella.’
‘And give him a chance to blackmail her into bed.’
Crammond nodded. ‘I knew he fancied her.’
‘Like father, like son,’ Rebecca said.
Men, Rebecca thought, do they ever think with something other than their dicks?
Crammond shook his head. ‘Everything had been going so well. So bloody well. We were making money. Nobody had been hurt—’
‘Except the people your doctor pal killed,’ said Rebecca.
Crammond had nothing to say to that. He lowered his head.
‘Okay,’ said Sawyer, ‘I think we get the gist now and I think it’s time we called in the cavalry . . .’
That was when Jacko moved. It was sudden. It was swift. He reached under the armchair and came up with a shotgun, nestling the stock against his stomach. The side-by-side barrels swivelled back and forth in front of him as he stood up. ‘Bugger this for a game of soldiers.’
Sawyer looked disappointed as he took a step forwards. ‘Jacko, son, this is just stupid.’
‘Naw, Mr Sawyer, you’ll be the stupid one if you don’t stay still.’
‘You’re not a killer, Jacko.’
Jacko gave him a tight little smile. ‘You sure about that, Mr Sawyer?’ He was trying to exude cool confidence but the wavering barrel said otherwise. Rebecca didn’t know anything about firearms but she hoped there was no such thing as a hair trigger. She had been faced with a gun once before in her life and it wasn’t any easier this time round. She felt the same paralysis, the same cold prickle in her gut and at her neck.
Sawyer took a deep breath, and Rebecca wondered if he was weighing up his chances of crossing the four feet that now separated them before Jacko could fire. He exhaled heavily. ‘So what now, Jacko?’ Sawyer asked.
‘Just shut it and let me think – that’s what now.’
Jacko’s voice was stretched, as if it was being run through a mangle as his throat tightened. He was nervous and that was dangerous when he had a shotgun in his hand.
‘You’re not a gun merchant, Jacko, so whose shotgun is that?’ said Sawyer.
‘My mate’s. He does a bit of shooting.’
Sawyer risked a half-step. ‘Keeps it loaded, does he? Dangerous, that.’
Jacko backed up against the wall as much as he could. ‘No, I loaded it this morning, just in case.’
‘In case of what?’
‘Just in case. And you take another step and I’ll show you just in case.’
Sawyer ignored him, edged forwards again. ‘You ever handled one of they things before? You knew how to load it?’
‘Course I knew how to load it. You open it up, you shove they pellet things in—’
‘Cartridges, Jacko, they call them cartridges.’
‘Cartridges, then. I stuck a couple in.’
Half a step.
‘Oh aye? You check them, then?’
Jacko squinted. ‘Check them?’
‘Aye, check them, Jacko. See, cartridges come in all shapes and sizes. If you put the wrong one in then it can jam, blow the gun up, and that would take your head off.’
‘Where did you get the cartridges from?’
‘Trust him, do you?’
‘Aye.’ His tone said no.
‘You see if this mate wanted to relieve himself of a wee problem called Jacko then what better way,’ Sawyer said. He placed his hands on his head and as he spoke he threw his arms out wide. ‘Boom. Splat.’
Jacko wavered but kept the weapon trained on Sawyer. Rebecca hoped the former policeman knew what he was doing. The last time she’d seen someone try to talk a gunman down, it hadn’t ended well.
‘My mate’s a mate, he doesn’t want rid of me.’ Jacko sounded confident but there was doubt in his eyes.
‘Okay, but did you also give the cartridges a shake before you loaded them?’
‘A shake. See, if they’ve been sitting about for a while, maybe wrong way up, the load can settle and clog. Even if they are the right ones you’ve got to give them a good shake before you put them in, otherwise you can wave bye-bye to your hand. As it were.’ Sawyer smiled. ‘You didn’t check the cartridges, did you, Jacko? You don’t know how to.’
Jacko looked confused. ‘You’re talking pish. You don’t need to shake them.’
‘Are you sure, son? You want to take that chance?’
‘You’re the one taking the chance,’ said Jacko, but he didn’t sound convinced.
In touching distance now.
‘I don’t think I am, son,’ said Sawyer.
Close enough now.
Jacko froze. Everything seemed to hang in the air.
Crammond stood stock-still by the fire.
Sawyer, so very close to Jacko and the weapon.
Rebecca’s breath solidifying in her lungs. She found her focus being pulled from Jacko’s narrowed eyes, the pupils skittering from right to left as if watching very fast tennis, to the finger on the trigger. Hooked round it. The knuckle showing very faintly white. If he fired there was no way he could miss. Sawyer was directly in front of the barrels now. The silence was like a heavy blanket, covering everything, hanging between them all.
Then the front doorbell rang.
And everything happened at once.
Jacko twitched towards Rebecca, and Sawyer whipped his arm up and out, swinging upwards. He slammed hard into the barrels of the weapon to jerk them upwards. Jacko yelled and the gun went off, punching a hole in the ceiling and sending plaster and wood splinters cascading down on top of them.
The shot was followed by a crack as the front door smashed inwards and police swarmed in. Jacko, gun still in hand, was tackled and, as he fell, Sawyer reached out and twisted the weapon free before stepping away. He broke open the barrels and ejected the two spent cartridges.
He gave Rebecca a grin. ‘See what I mean, Becks? No one said crooks had to be geniuses.’
The pub was quiet for a Friday night but Daniella had chosen it for just that reason. Rebecca laid two drinks on the table before she settled herself opposite Daniella.
‘Sláinte,’ said Daniella.
‘And you,’ replied Rebecca as they clinked glasses.
‘So what are you going to do for excitement next week, Rebecca?’
‘I might wake up early one morning and roll back over and go back to sleep. You?’
‘Make up with my mum.’
‘Is she still in Spain?’
‘Twenty years and rarely a word between us,’ said Daniella. ‘She left me with my aunt when I was sixteen to open a bar in a coastal town called El Descaro. I might go out, or I might not. I hear she’s tied up with some well-dodgy people out there and I’m not sure she wants me to be part of it – or if I want any of it. We’ll see. And how are you after the shoot-out at Inversneckie?’
‘Still shaking. And Kevin?’
‘Did a runner, but they caught him on the train to London. No idea why he ran. He had no clue what was going on – just a bum licker that got used. And your mate, Sawyer?’
Rebecca smiled at the thought. ‘Not quite my mate, but he’s fine. A bit of a hero, taking the gun from Jacko. He’ll drink out on that for a few lifetimes yet.’
‘Just as well he knows his shotguns,’ said Daniella.
‘Turns out, he doesn’t. He’s got a working knowledge, but all that stuff about shaking the cartridges? You know where he got it?’
‘The Magnificent Seven – Steve McQueen. I’ve never seen it, but apparently he does it at one point. Sawyer just made it up to buy himself time.’
Daniella laughed. ‘Ballsy. Just as well the police turned up, though.’
‘How did they know where to come?’
‘Jacko’s neighbour,’ said Rebecca. ‘She heard Crammond and Jacko going at it before we arrived, called them. She knew the tenant was off in Spain and didn’t like the look of Jacko anyway. That’s why they turned up mob-handed.’
‘Crammond, Barclay, Jacko – they really were all idiots.’
‘And the rest.’
Daniella sipped her drink. ‘And what about Freddy – any sign?’
‘In the wind, as they say. He’s wanted for murder. He’ll show up, sooner or later. Sawyer says these guys always do. As he says, they’re not too bright.’
‘And I saw the paper. Your story across the front page. Big time for you, Miss Connolly.’
Rebecca smiled. ‘Well, Freddy said he’d get us in the Daily Record. I’m glad I was able to oblige.’
‘You’ll be fighting off the job offers.’
‘You’d think, but it’s not the way it works. And not how I want it to be. I like working for my wee agency in the boondocks.’ Then she added, ‘They think Shakespeare might have killed five people.’
Daniella nodded her head. ‘And they found policies for four more on our system.’
‘How did you know what Crammond was up to?’
‘He wasn’t that smart. The pay-out details on the Peace of Mind product were in the system. I just cross-referenced Crammond and Inverness, found out about the satellite office and then linked it to the product. Checked the policy. The pay-out rate was way too high and the time period coincided with Crammond going north. It was an easy guess that he was scamming the system. Crammond must have known it would be found out. That’s why he scared so easily when he was told I was talking about him at the coffee machine. He assumed we were onto him.’
The background music in the pub kicked in, and they both laughed at the tune.
‘What are the chances?’ said Rebecca.
‘“Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life”,’ sang Daniella.
They let the song play out, singing along. When it finished, Daniella raised a glass. ‘What shall we drink to?’
‘What about drinking to my story’s headline?’
‘Your front-page headline, don’t forget.’
Together they lifted their glasses and, as one, said, ‘To “Death Insurance”.’
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.