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The King's Park Irregulars
An Abigail Craig Mystery
By David Wilson
The History PressCopyright © 2012 David Wilson
All rights reserved.
At eleven o'clock on a Monday morning in late July, Abigail Craig sat in a booth in The Burgh coffee shop watching the door for the arrival of her friend, Alasdair Mills, who would no doubt be running fashionably late as usual. Usually she was a creature of habit but since this particular coffee shop had only opened that very morning, it seemed like a good opportunity to try someplace new. Life can get stale if you don't try new things, she thought, and for one reason or another, well really only one reason in particular, she had not tried any new things this past year. She looked around, taking in the surroundings from her prime vantage point in the booth. It looked like most coffee shops with its welcoming, black, soft leather sofas and a row of stools along a bar in the window and at the back, opposite the counter, a row of booths where Abigail now sat. Just then she was distracted as a flustered man in an overcoat, black cords, shirt and a tartan waistcoat came through the doors and waved as he walked over towards her, 'Morning Abby, sorry I'm late. Had to get these flowers for Sophie.'
'You don't usually get flowers for her, which means you must either be in the dog house or up to something. Which is it?'
He threw his coat into the seat opposite and sighed heavily. 'The latter I'm afraid. I'll tell you about it in a minute, I need coffee first. What will you have?'
Abigail scanned the list of coffees along the back wall. 'I'll just have a regular coffee please.'
Alasdair raised his eyebrows. 'Come on Abby, it's an exciting time for coffee drinkers nowadays, why should the young have all the fun. I'm going to have a latte, with one of those fancy syrups. Can I tempt you? New coffee shop so a new you?'
'No thank you. I'm quite happy with the old me and my normal coffee.' Alasdair spun round and marched over to the counter to order the drinks with Abigail absently watching as he did so. At sixty-two he was only two years younger than she was but he could easily pass for being in his fifties. His greying hair was parted down one side and for his age he would still be considered handsome and, although his stomach had overtaken his chest in pushing out his waistcoat, his energy levels seemed undiminished. By comparison Abigail felt older these days than she should and her hair was almost completely grey, although thanks to her hairdresser it was always dyed over to keep up appearances, which was also aided with her smart clothes. Alasdair came back and slid into the other side of the booth and took a sip of his coffee. 'So, what do we think of the new place?' he asked, looking around. 'I like the touch of having these books here.' Along a shelf, which ran the length of the booths, were old sets of encyclopaedias which immediately drew Abigail's approval.
'Yes, I do like those. Anywhere there are books to read and especially for people to learn is always fine with me.'
'That's the head librarian talking but I agree, they are good.' They peered at the books which to them felt out of place here but at the same time also appropriate. Stirling was, after all, a university city and students were apt to have coffee from time to time, she was sure. They were not current but not so out of date as to be of little use and they were arranged neatly in alphabetical order, the spines displaying the subject with which each book started and finished. Alasdair pointed thoughtfully, 'Some of the contents seem quite intriguing,' he said. 'I take it these are where they start and end in the book.' Abigail scanned along the spines as well while Alasdair pulled a couple down. 'Look at this, Chicago Death, or this one with Arctic Biosphere and here's Decorative Edison.' Abigail noticed two teenagers in the next booth reach up and take down one of the books.
'Look Alasdair,' she whispered, 'isn't that wonderful. It's lovely to see a thirst for knowledge in the young.' The two teenagers giggled and then replaced the book before sliding out of their booth and heading for the door. Curious about the laughter, Alasdair reached over and pulled the book out again, and, after reading the spine, held it up to Abigail who just sighed. 'Excretion Geometry! I might have known.'
Alasdair laughed. 'A bit unfortunate if there's a practical exam for that subject!' he said, as Abigail's brow furrowed.
'Do you know I saw an article on breakfast television the other day. They said that in the next few years all reference books will be digitised and only available on the internet rather than being sold in book format. What do you make of that?' Alasdair frowned and shook his head, showing his disapproval. 'I mean what will that do for people's knowledge? If you look for information on the internet you're likely only to find out what you look for, and who knows who may have written it, but if you look it up in a book you might stumble on something on an adjacent page, or as you flick through the book, not to mention it having been checked over before it was published. It's very sad.' They sipped their coffees in silence for a moment, pondering the imminent downward spiral of general knowledge in society when Abigail remembered, 'Oh, so why are you in the dog house with Sophie?'
Alisdair heaved another sigh. 'Bit of a faux pas at a party yesterday and now she's peeved with me. It's my fault really although I blame her for letting me get the present.' Abigail was already starting to get the picture. Alasdair's wife Sophie was a saint and although he had retired a year or so ago she continued to work in her job in Human Resources in the Prudential just outside the city, leaving Alasdair to his own devices, which he used to try and embrace every possible notion that came into his head. She sipped her coffee waiting for him to continue.
'We were at a party for one of Sophie's work colleagues who was retiring, Bridget McAllister, a bit of a foul woman who was one of the supervisors. To be honest I think everyone was glad she was going. Anyway, Sophie was working to catch up with the new software system so she had asked me to go into town and get a present, then I was to meet her at the party afterwards in the Highland Hotel, which this Bridget woman had chosen. "No problem," I said, and since she had told me a bit about her I assumed I'd be on safe ground but it turns out I wasn't listening quite as closely as I maybe should have been.'
Abigail smiled. 'Imagine that. What did you do?'
'Well, I was running a little bit late and when I arrived they were just about to make the presentation so Sophie took the present off me and handed it over to Bridget in front of the assembled staff. But she seemed a little confused when she opened it.'
'What had you got for her?'
'Crampons! Those things for your boots when you're climbing?'
'Yes! Sophie gave me a look as if to ask "What on earth?" and I said, "You said that Bridget went climbing with friends so I though these would be handy." Sophie told me she'd said no such thing and Bridget was just looking at me as if I was a sandwich short of a picnic. Well, I suppose I wasn't thinking and I just blurted out what Sophie had said, 'No, you told me that Bridget was a social climber!' Well, you can imagine the rest.'
Abigail roared with laughter. 'Alasdair, you're a tonic. I can well imagine. It's a good job old Bridget was retiring!' She wiped the tears from her eyes, 'Sophie will let you off the hook later, she knows you well enough.'
Alasdair shrugged. 'True. By the way are you still remembering about the Collectors' Club meeting tonight?' Abigail unfortunately couldn't think of a good excuse to get out of it, although appreciated the thought of Alasdair trying to get her out of the house again and back socialising properly.
'Yes, seven thirty isn't it?'
'No, seven o'clock tonight since it's the first meeting in a couple of months, what with holidays and things. Why don't I swing by around quarter to and we can walk over to the Smith together and I can introduce you to everyone?' Abigail nodded and then slid out of the booth to put her coat on. 'Are you working today? How's the new girl getting on, the work experience one?'
'No, it's my day off today. She's fine although always seems to be distracted. I don't think working in the library was her first choice but we'll get there. She's young so maybe just needs to get used to working in the silence. I'm back in tomorrow.' They left a tip on the counter and then walked outside, 'Are you off home then, Alasdair?'
'No, I'm going to go into the Marches to see the carbon people.'
Abigail looked confused. 'The who?'
'The carbon people from the council. They help you do your bit to save the planet, that type of thing. I've decided I'm going to go carbon neutral.'
'You're going carbon neutral?' Abigail stuttered. 'You do know that you'll need to make some sacrifices to do it and I'm sure that Mercedes you drive isn't a great friend to the environment.' So this is the new notion for this week, she thought a little despairingly, we'll see how long this one lasts.
Alasdair looked unphased. 'I don't think it'll be that difficult, now that the boffins have had a few years to work on all the technology I'm sure it'll be easy to make the changes without too much hardship. What's the cost to change a few light-bulbs?'
Abigail smiled. 'Ok, well good luck!'
Alasdair threw her a wave as he turned and marched off, as Abigail made her way up the hill in the opposite direction towards home.CHAPTER 2
Alasdair strolled through the Marches shopping centre, as the crowd of morning shoppers were slowly blending into the gaggle of office workers racing around to do some SAS-style shopping (in and out in the minimal time and take no prisoners!) or pick up a sandwich for lunch. There seemed to be an unwritten rule that the mornings were for people of pensionable age to potter around but between eleven thirty and twelve those people should start to go home to make way for those who came out at lunchtime and were in a rush due to the need to return to their place of work. Alasdair watched as the younger men and women seemed to weave like grand prix drivers in and out of the last few remaining older people, although rather than being concerned with running off the race track they merely had to avoid clipping a tartan canvas shopping bag every now and again. Alasdair thought that he was in no man's land at this time since he was not actually of pensionable age, having taken early retirement from his law firm last year, but neither did he work. His role he felt was to be the buffer between the two, and to this end he would often find himself walking more slowly than he was capable, purely because he was aware of someone behind him on a mobile phone who wouldn't interrupt their conversation to say 'Excuse me', but would insist on trying to squeeze by anyway.
Just past the store, which had been the old Woolworths, there was a little stand in the middle of the floor, with a sign advertising the current push in the city to reduce your carbon footprint. Alasdair approached the young woman, who was hovering around with a small handful of leaflets ready to leap out at passers-by.
'Good morning, young lady,' Alasdair was oblivious to her subtle stiffening at his address, 'I live in the city and I'm interested to do my bit.' The young woman, whose badge on her lapel stated she was called simply, Pamela, smiled at him.
'That's lovely, sir. It's always nice when people come to speak to us. So much of my day is spent chasing after people trying to give them leaflets that it's a nice change when someone comes to me. If I could only harness the energy I spend trying to catch people then I could power a small village!' She laughed at her own joke, and then stopped as Alasdair looked ready to walk off again, 'But anyway, can I ask what you do at the moment?'
'Well, I must confess that I don't really do much at all at the moment, however that's why I'm here. My wife and I do recycle of course but then these days you have no choice in the matter do you?' He raised his eyebrows as he said this, 'I mean if you don't recycle then you're very much frowned upon, it's the new parking in someone else's space, don't you think?' Pamela kept smiling, although an almost imperceptible wrinkle appeared on her forehead.
'Yes, sir, you do have to recycle but it's all for a good cause. The amount of waste that is needlessly dumped into landfill each year, each day in fact, is not good for our planet. We can all be so wasteful these days that I think it's nice to think twice about what can be used again. What about saving energy in the home?' Alasdair pondered for a moment.
'I'm not sure I can honestly say I'm doing anything on that front either. There's just my wife and I so we don't use too much energy, although Sophie does bake a lot for her committee meetings, and we do need to keep the house warm, and it's a big house even for the two of us.'
Pamela seized on this. 'Ah yes, sir, but have you considered that if it's only you and your wife then you could close the door on some rooms and only heat the ones you're using?'
'No, the trouble is you never know which room you might want to go into at any time of the day.'
'Ok, what about energy-saving light-bulbs?'
'Or wind power?'
'Recycling of water for the garden?'
'No. Unless our gardener does it, you'd have to ask him though.' Pamela's face changed slightly as a not unknown medical reflex came into play whereby the exact amount her smile faded was instantly replaced by the same amount of frown on her forehead. She knew there were a lot of people in Stirling doing fantastic work on the project, and she wondered how many of them were doing it to compensate for this one individual. But if I can change this one, she thought, that's like winning the World Cup. Alasdair was looking at the papers on the small desk, 'Good idea sir, why don't we have a seat and go through the energy survey and we can perhaps identify your needs.'
Twenty minutes later Pamela sat back, her hand throbbing slightly from the amount of writing she'd had to do in detailing where Alasdair was going wrong, and where he could start to put things right. 'It's not so much that you have a carbon footprint, Mr Mills,' she told him, 'It's more of a carbon crater.'
Alasdair glanced down the list. 'There are an awful lot of things on this list.'
'Yes it's not easy going Green, it takes a bit of effort but it pays off in the long run.'
Alasdair made a low ponderous noise. 'Perhaps what I need to do is not go the full hog and just go slightly Green. Maybe just to go Green light? That sounds like it would be the thing; after all, I'm not solely responsible for the state we're in. I could start a Green Light movement.'
Pamela smiled at him. 'Yes, but if you take all these things on board then just think how much future generations will have to thank you for.' Alasdair rose from his seat and folded the papers into his coat pocket, 'You do want future generations to have a good opinion of you, don't you Mr Mills?'
Alasdair forced a smile, looking around. 'I like to think I'll be remembered. Like Woolworths,' he said, 'I wasn't fully appreciated while I was here, but when I'm gone everyone will realise how good it was to have me around!' With that he strolled off, leaving Pamela to slump down in her seat and put the 'Closed' sign on top of the desk.
Excerpted from The King's Park Irregulars by David Wilson. Copyright © 2012 David Wilson. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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