Old Sins Cast a Long Shadow – Extract from A RATTLE OF BONES by Douglas Skelton

  21 Jul '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn

A Rattle of Bones is book three in the Rebecca Connolly Thrillers series – set against the stunning backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, it is a tale of injustice and mystery, and the echo of the past in the present.

Rebecca grabbed a fresh notebook and some pens, locked up and followed the traces of Bailey’s aftershave to street level, where the heat of the day was near searing compared to the cool of the dingy stairway. The lock of the entrance door had been failing to engage properly, so she pulled hard until she heard it click. She had meant to purchase some 3-in-1 oil, but it continually slipped her mind. She made a mental note to buy some next time she was in the supermarket.

Chaz Wymark was leaning against a patch of wall between the doorway and a coffee house, one leg folded at the knee and the foot placed against the brickwork, his face raised to the sun. He opened one eye and squinted in her direction.

‘A fella could get used to this weather,’ he said.

‘It’s Scotland,’ she said, ‘it won’t last.’

He dropped the raised leg and stooped to heft his camera bag, which had been sitting at his feet like a patient dog. ‘Jeezo, rain on my parade, why don’t you?’ He slung the strap of his bag over his shoulder. ‘What kept you?’

‘Sorry, I had to deal with something.’

She welcomed the sun’s rays: it had been a long winter and early summer was proving to be a stunner. A few tourists were out already, even though it was only just after nine. A party of sightseers was being guided down the street towards Church Street, perhaps heading for the Old High Kirk. Rebecca wondered how they’d feel if they were greeted with the vision of a man dressed in the red coat of a government soldier from 1746, his throat cut and his corpse draped over a flat gravestone, as had happened the year before. She hadn’t seen it herself but she had spoken to a police officer who had. It had not been a pretty sight and it would have been more than enough to have the visitors dropping their guidebooks. She let the group pass and one of their number, an elderly woman, smiled at her. Rebecca nodded and smiled back, but it slid away when she saw Martin Bailey watching her from across the road. She felt a frown pucker, but she turned away so Bailey wouldn’t see.

‘What’s up?’ Chaz asked, seeing her expression.

‘The guy over there.’

Chaz craned round her to look. ‘What guy?’

‘Don’t make it so obvious you’re looking, for Christ’s sake,’ she whispered.

‘Sorry,’ said Chaz, ‘didn’t know we were in cloak-and-dagger mode.’

‘Did you see him?’

‘Didn’t get a chance before you told me my spycraft was somehow wanting.’

Despite her concern, she smiled. ‘He’s across the other side of the road. He’s moaning about his son’s court report being in the paper. That’s what kept me back.’

‘Okay,’ said Chaz, this time being more circumspect as he glanced towards the far pavement.

‘He’s also a member of SG. I think he is, anyway. He just threatened me, in an offhand sort of way.’

Not so offhand, she thought as she recalled his final look.

‘Did he?’ Chaz’s voice hardened and he dropped any pretence as he peered round her to give the man what was now a glare. Rebecca didn’t chastise him this time. God bless him, but they both knew he was unlikely to go all medieval. ‘Oh yeah, I saw him go in just after you.’

Without turning, she asked, ‘What’s he doing now?’

‘Just standing there looking at us.’ Chaz kept his face straight. ‘Not sure my best Clint Eastwood glower is worrying him at all. What kind of threat?’

‘Ach, just the usual sort of thing. A threat that’s not really a threat. You lot will learn, it’s our time now, this doesn’t end here, blah blah blah. It’s more the way he said it than what he said. Oh yeah – and I’m the enemy.’

Chaz kept staring at Martin Bailey. He may not have been Clint Eastwood, but he was gutsy. ‘Whose enemy? His?’

‘The SG. Finbar Dalgliesh.’

‘Anyone with half a brain is their enemy. You think he’s dangerous?’

Her rational mind told her that he was a bully, and bullies only function if they think they can bully. Chances were, that would be the last she heard of it.

‘Leave it,’ she said. ‘Come on, forget him. He’s nothing.’

They walked up the street towards the railway station. Chaz’s limp, following an incident when the vehicle he was driving left the road, was less pronounced now and he had discarded the cane he had sported for a time. He had never actually needed it anyway. She looked over her shoulder once and saw Bailey was shadowing them on the opposite side. When they reached the end of the road and he was still there, Rebecca decided it was time to nip this in the bud.

‘Wait here,’ she said to Chaz and immediately crossed over to face the man. Amusement still danced in his eyes as he looked at her, that smug little smile tickling his lips.

‘Do we have a problem, Mr Bailey?’ She kept her voice low, so passers-by couldn’t hear.

He didn’t say anything at first, just looked at her with that maddening smirk. ‘Just walking, that’s all.’

‘Uh-huh,’ she said.

‘A bloke can walk in the street, can he no’?’

She drew in a harsh breath. She really had no answer for him. He leaned in a little closer and said quietly, ‘But I’ll be in touch.’

‘I don’t think we have anything further to discuss, Mr Bailey.’

He took a half-step back, shrugged, then turned and walked in the opposite direction. Rebecca watched him for a moment, then rejoined Chaz.

‘Trouble, you think?’ he asked.

She looked back across the road but Bailey was out of sight.

‘I’ve dealt with his sort before. Back at the paper I had one who called me every day – another court story – and called me for everything. But this? I don’t know. Feels different.’

‘If you’re worried you should tell the police. Maybe give Val Roach a call.’

Val Roach was a police officer Rebecca had met during the investigation into the murder in the kirkyard and another on Culloden. The whole thing ended with Rebecca almost catching a bullet. It also led to her leaving the Highland Chronicle to work at the agency. Roach let her down during that investigation by telling a suspect that Rebecca had broken a confidence, which she had not. She also threatened to have Rebecca arrested for withholding information. That did not endear the police officer to her and they had not spoken since.

‘And tell her what?’ Rebecca said. ‘Somebody made a complaint and gave me a stern look, and then he dared to walk in the street outside the office? No, as I said, forget it. Guys like him aren’t worth the blood pressure. Come on, let’s go see Afua Stewart.’

‘You think she’ll speak to you?’

Rebecca’s sideways look was reproving. ‘Have you ever known anyone to refuse me?’

He let her walk a few steps ahead before he said, ‘Well . . . yes.’

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 Open Wounds (2016) 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.

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