He was shrieking now, frantic, his face drained of all colour. She was at the top of the stairs, and he stumbled towards her, grabbing her by the arms, propelling her downstairs with unfocussed force, so that she feared they would both fall. She cried out.
‘Ronnie! Hide from who?’
‘Hide!’ he shrieked again. ‘Hide! They’re coming! They’re coming!’
He had pushed her all the way to the front door now. She’d seen him pretty strung out before, but never this bad. A fix would help him, she knew it would. And she knew, too, that he had the makings upstairs in his bedroom. The sweat trickled from his chilled rat’s-tails of hair. Only two minutes ago, the most important decision in her life had been whether or not to dare a trip to the squat’s seething lavatory. But now….
‘They’re coming,’ he repeated, his voice a whisper now. ‘Hide.’
‘Ronnie,’ she said, ‘you’re scaring me.’
He stared at her, his eyes seeming almost to recognise her. Then he looked away again, into a distance all of his own. The word was a snakelike hiss.
‘Hide.’ And with that he yanked open the door. It was raining outside, and she hesitated. But then fear took her, and she made to cross the threshold. But his hand grabbed at her arm, pulling her back inside. He embraced her, his sweat sea-salty, his body throbbing. His mouth was close to her ear, his breath hot.
‘They’ve murdered me,’ he said. Then with sudden ferocity he pushed her again, and this time she was outside, and the door was slamming shut, leaving him alone in the house. Alone with himself. She stood on the garden path, staring at the door, trying to decide whether to knock or not.
It wouldn’t make any difference. She knew that. So instead she started to cry. Her head slipped forward in a rare show of self-pity and she wept for a full minute, before, breathing hard three times, she turned and walked quickly down the garden path (such as it was). Someone would take her in. Someone would comfort her and take away the fear and dry her clothes.
Someone always did.
JOHN REBUS stared hard at the dish in front of him, oblivious to the conversation around the table, the background music, the flickering candles. He didn’t really care about house prices in Barnton, or the latest delicatessen to be opened in the Grassmarket. He didn’t much want to speak to the other guests—a female lecturer to his right, a male bookseller to his left—about… well, what ever they’d just been discussing. Yes, it was the perfect dinner party, the conversation as tangy as the starter course, and he was glad Rian had invited him. Of course he was. But the more he stared at the half lobster on his plate, the more an unfocussed despair grew within him. What had he in common with these people? Would they laugh if he told the story of the police alsatian and the severed head? No, they would not. They would smile politely, then bow their heads towards their plates, acknowledging that he was… well, different from them.
It was Rian’s voice, warning him that he was not ‘taking part’, was not ‘conversing’ or even looking interested. He accepted the large oval dish with a smile, but avoided her eyes.
She was a nice girl. Quite a stunner in an individual sort of way. Bright red hair, cut short and pageboyish. Eyes deep, striking green. Lips thin but promising. Oh yes, he liked her. He wouldn’t have accepted her invitation otherwise. He fished about in the dish for a piece of broccoli that wouldn’t break into a thousand pieces as he tried to manoeuvre it onto his plate.
‘Gorgeous food, Rian,’ said the bookseller, and Rian smiled, accepting the remark, her face reddening slightly. That was all it took, John. That was all you had to say to make this girl happy. But in his mouth he knew it would come out sounding sarcastic. His tone of voice was not something he could suddenly throw off like a piece of clothing. It was a part of him, nurtured over a course of years. So when the lecturer agreed with the bookseller, all John Rebus did was smile and nod, the smile too fixed, the nod going on a second or two too long, so that they were all looking at him again. The piece of broccoli snapped into two neat halves above his plate and splattered onto the tablecloth.
‘Shite!’ he said, knowing as the word escaped his lips that it was not quite appropriate, not quite the right word for the occasion. Well, what was he, a man or a thesaurus?
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Couldn’t be helped,’ said Rian. My God, her voice was cold.
It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend. He’d gone shopping on Saturday, ostensibly for a suit to wear tonight. But had baulked at the prices, and bought some books instead, one of which was intended as a gift to Rian: Doctor Zhivago. But then he’d decided he’d like to read it himself first, and so had brought flowers and chocolates instead, forgetting her aversion to lilies (had he known in the first place?) and the diet she was in the throes of starting. Damn. And to cap it all, he’d tried a new church this morning, another Church of Scotland offering, not too far from his flat. The last one he’d tried had seemed unbearably cold, promising nothing but sin and repentance, but this latest church had been the oppressive opposite: all love and joy and what was there to forgive anyway? So he’d sung the hymns, then buggered off, leaving the minister with a handshake at the door and a promise of future attendance.
‘More wine, John?’
This was the bookseller, proffering the bottle he’d brought himself. It wasn’t a bad little wine, actually, but the bookseller had talked about it with such unremitting pride that Rebus felt obliged to decline. The man frowned, but then was cheered to find this refusal left all the more for himself. He replenished his glass with vigour.
‘Cheers,’ he said.
The conversation returned to how busy Edinburgh seemed these days. Here was something with which Rebus could agree. This being the end of May, the tourists were almost in season. But there was more to it than that. If anyone had told him five years ago that in 1989 people would be emigrating north from the south of England to the Lothians, he’d have laughed out loud. Now it was fact, and a fit topic for the dinner table.
Later, much later, the couple having departed, Rebus helped Rian with the dishes.
‘What was wrong with you?’ she said, but all he could think about was the minister’s handshake, that confident grip which bespoke assurances of an afterlife.
‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Let’s leave these till morning.’
Rian stared at the kitchen, counting the used pots, the half-eaten lobster carcasses, the wine glasses smudged with grease.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘What did you have in mind instead?’
He raised his eyebrows slowly, then brought them down low over his eyes. His lips broadened into a smile which had about it a touch of the leer. She became coy.
‘Why, Inspector,’ she said. ‘Is that supposed to be some kind of a clue?’
‘Here’s another,’ he said, lunging at her, hugging her to him, his face buried in her neck. She squealed, clenched fists beating against his back.
‘Police brutality!’ she gasped. ‘Help! Police, help!’
‘Yes, madam?’ he inquired, carrying her by the waist out of the kitchen, towards where the bedroom and the end of the weekend waited in shadow.
LATE EVE NING at a building site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The contract was for the construction of an office development. A fifteen-foot-high fence separated the works from the main road. The road, too, was of recent vintage, built to help ease traffic congestion around the city. Built so that commuters could travel easily from their countryside dwellings to jobs in the city centre.
There were no cars on the road to night. The only sound came from the slow chug-chugging of a cement mixer on the site. A man was feeding it spadefuls of grey sand and remembering the far distant days when he had laboured on a building site. Hard graft it had been, but honest.
Two other men stood above a deep pit, staring down into it. ‘Should do it,’ one said.
‘Yes,’ the other agreed. They began walking back to the car, an ageing purple Mercedes.
‘He must have some clout. I mean, to get us the keys to this place, to set all this up. Some clout.’
‘Ours is not to ask questions, you know that.’ The man who spoke was the oldest of the three, and the only Calvinist. He opened the car boot. Inside, the body of a frail teenager lay crumpled, obviously dead. His skin was the colour of pencil shading, darkest where the bruises lay.
‘What a waste,’ said the Calvinist.
‘Aye,’ the other agreed. Together they lifted the body from the boot, and carried it gently towards the hole. It dropped softly to the bottom, one leg wedging up against the sticky clay sides, a trouser leg slipping to show a naked ankle.
‘All right,’ the Calvinist said to the cement man. ‘Cover it, and let’s get out of here. I’m starving.’
Excerpted from Hide And Seek by IAN RANKIN.
Copyright © 1990 by Ian Rankin.
Published in 1990 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.