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Life for a Life
A DCI Gilchrist Novel
By T. Frank Muir
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2015 T. Frank Muir
All rights reserved.
Small hours of Saturday, early December Fife Coast, Scotland
She stumbles across the lawn, pushes through the gap in the hedge.
She has no time, ten minutes at most, probably much less.
Beyond the hedge, overgrown grass, dead and flattened for the winter, clings to her shoes. She kicks her way toward the low garden wall, grips the snow-freezing stones, and pulls herself up and over.
In the blackness, she lands awkwardly, sprawls onto her stomach with a force that brings a hard grunt to her throat. She picks herself up, risks a quick look behind her.
The gable wall of the cottage is already fading into the freezing darkness.
He is not following. Not yet.
But he soon will be.
She thinks of knocking on someone's door but knows this part of Scotland beds early. And he could return anytime, catch her in another house, then where would she be?
Better to run into the darkness.
Her high heels sink into the ground, slowing her down, and she slides a hand the length of her bare legs and removes one shoe, then the other. She grips them in her hands, shivering from the cold, and runs into the night. She does not know where she is, or where she is running to, but the faintest smell of the sea, and the whisper of distant surf, pull her on.
He will not expect her to flee this way. He will waste valuable time searching the housing estate, driving the streets, hunting her.
And if he finds her?
Just that thought has her throat constricting with fear, her lungs pulling for air. She chokes back a sob, risks another glance. Behind her, lights fade into a ghostly glow, and she realizes that mist is falling.
Thank God. At least He is looking out for her.
That thought gives her hope.
The wall appears out of the empty darkness, like a barrier to block her escape. But again she hauls herself over, lands on a gravel pathway, the stones small and sharp enough to cut into her bare feet. She cleans mud from her soles, slips on her high heels, and jogs as best she can into the ice-cold breeze. The mist changes to the finest of snowflakes that thicken as she runs on. From behind, she hears a thump, imagines it is him slamming the cottage door shut. Another hard sound echoes in the darkness.
Is it his car? Is it an engine firing up?
She reaches down for her shoes, snaps off one heel, then the other, and throws them into the darkness. Without heels, she runs faster, her feet thudding the gravel path in a steady beat, reminding her of days at her school in Rzeszow, pounding the track. She wishes she was there now, wishes she had never met Anna, never listened to her dreams of starting a new life in a new country.
The snow is thickening now, flakes landing in her eyes, flying toward her like some spinning vortex. Despite the sweat on her brow, her arms and legs feel frozen dead, like limbs of ice. Her lungs breathe fire, and her chest pulses with an ache that makes her want to stop.
But she can't stop. She must keep running.
She will need to find somewhere to hide, someplace warm, or she will freeze in the bitter winter cold. She presses on, not knowing where she is going, knowing only that if she does not turn back, she will find her haven. She will at last be free.
Free from the pain, the insults, the inhumanity.
Free from the constant fear of death.
Free from him.CHAPTER 2
Tuesday morning, four days later St. Andrews Memorial Hospital
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Gilchrist flashed his warrant card at the nurse. "Won't be more than five minutes," he said.
He found Detective Inspector Stan Davidson asleep, one of two patients in a small ward outfitted for six. He pulled a chair bedside, gave the mattress a gentle shake.
Stan stirred, opened his eyes, took a few seconds to come to and say, "Boss?"
"Got it in one."
Stan tried to shift himself but stopped short with a grimace.
"Bit sore?" Gilchrist said.
"And then some." Stan gritted his teeth.
"Would be worse if they didn't have you doped up."
"Help me up, boss, will you?"
"Stay where you are, Stan. You've got twenty-six stitches. Best if you don't move."
Stan gave a welcoming nod and seemed to deflate under the sheets.
"You'll be out of action for a week or two," Gilchrist said. "Give you plenty of time to do your Christmas shopping. Not that I'm looking for much." He waited until Stan offered a half smile. "Just the usual. A pint behind the bar. But make it a Deuchars IPA this year."
Stan frowned. "What brought that on, boss?"
"Thought I'd give the Eighty Shilling a miss and try something different. Talking of which ..."
"I'll be good as new after the New Year, boss."
"I'm counting on it, Stan."
"I've never missed a day, boss."
"I never said you had. But while you're lying in bed pretending to be ill, life goes on. It's the festive season, Stan. Nothing but drunk-and-disorder-lies and a thousand Breathalyzers. You won't be missing much."
"What about the new DS?"
"So she'll stand in for me?"
"As a temp, Stan. Don't worry."
Stan nodded, as if in thought. "From her file, she looks like a cracking bit of stuff."
"You worried that I'm going to prefer her to you?"
"Well, she is better looking than me."
"Maybe she'll fall for you, Stan. With your charm and your blond looks."
"I'm too busy for birds, boss."
Gilchrist pushed his chair back and stood. "I've spoken with Dainty," he said. "He assures me it's an old photograph, and a cracker she's not. Well, not to look at anyway."
"Don't tell me she's trouble."
"Dainty didn't say that."
"Is that why she's transferring from Strathclyde?"
"Apparently not," said Gilchrist. "But time will tell."
Stan held Gilchrist's gaze, then said, "What are you looking at, boss?"
Gilchrist peered closer. "Are you losing your hair, Stan?"
"Piss off. I've nearly been stabbed to death, and you're asking if I'm losing my hair? Yes, I'm losing my hair. I'll be pure bald by the time I'm as ancient as you."
"Touché," said Gilchrist. "But then you won't have to worry about going gray." He waited a couple of beats, then said, "The name's Stewart Donnelly. A right nasty piece of work. We have four eyewitnesses who've given written statements, all confirming the attack was unprovoked."
"Well, that's a start," Stan said. "And has Donnelly explained why he jumped me?"
"Said you provoked him. I know, I know, settle down, Stan, it's only his story. He'd say black was white if it got him off. He's got form. Lots of it. Apparently he was over from Dundee to celebrate being released on bail."
"I kid you not, Stan old son. You were attacked by a career criminal."
Stan frowned. "What about the other guy? His mate? What's he saying?"
"Name's Craig Farmer. Says he pulled Donnelly off you. Which was lucky for you. But he's not Donnelly's mate. Says he doesn't know him. Met him in the pub for the first time that day, although Donnelly says otherwise." Gilchrist checked his watch.
"Got to go, boss?"
"Could give you a kiss good-bye, if you'd like."
"I don't think my stitches could stand it."
"We don't want you popping any sutures."
Outside, a gray sky threatened snow.
Gilchrist pulled his collar up and strode to his Merc, remote in hand. It irked him that he had not been altogether honest with Stan. Not that he was being deceitful, rather that he felt there was no need to trouble Stan over personal thoughts and concerns.
Donnelly's mate, the man who had pulled Donnelly off Stan, arguably saving Stan's life, had traipsed along to the station as requested, given his name — Craig Farmer — signed his written statement, then returned to his B and B, Arran House, in Murray Park. Except that when Gilchrist checked in on him earlier that morning, Arran House had no record of a Craig Farmer staying over, or of anyone else who fit his description. Nor did his name tie up with his driving license registered with the DVLA.
Which only raised more questions in Gilchrist's mind.
Questions he knew from experience he would need answered.
DS Nancy Wilson eyed the recorder on the table and said, "DCI Andy Gilchrist has joined the interview." She glanced at the clock on the wall, recited the time, then said, "Once more for the record, Mr. Donnelly has turned down his right for legal representation during this interview. Is that correct, Mr. Donnelly?"
Nance flipped through her notes, found what she was looking for. "Because, and I quote, solicitors are nothing but expensive, useless wankers that know fuck all."
"That's what I said."
Gilchrist leaned forward. "You do realize that an assault with a deadly weapon on an officer of the law is a serious offence."
Gilchrist nodded to Nance, a sign for her just to get on with the interview, get it over and done with.
"You came over from Dundee for the day, just to have a couple of pints with a mate of yours," Nance said. "But he's such a good friend that you don't know his name."
"Don't remember his name. There's a difference. I'm hopeless with names. If I don't write them down, they're gone. Poof. Just like that." Donnelly snapped his fingers and gave a shrug of puzzlement.
"That's not what your mate's saying."
"He wouldn't, would he?"
"Why wouldn't he?" Gilchrist asked.
"Cause I'm a nutter, see? A right fucking nutter." He grinned at Gilchrist. "No one wants to associate themselves with a nutter, do they now? And that's a good word that is. Associate."
"Good at English, are you?"
"Yeah. Here's another good word. Unpredictable. How's that for English?"
"Yeah. Ten out of ten, and all that. But unpredictable's my middle name."
Nance could not resist the opportunity. "I predict you're going back inside," she said.
"Good. Yeah. I like that. Three square meals a day. No matter what the fuck I do." He grimaced at Gilchrist. "Beats coming to work every fucking day. I mean, look at the pair of you. What you earn? Not a lot by the fucking looks of it."
"Handy with a knife?" Gilchrist again.
"Too true, mate, I'm real fucking handy."
"You said DI Davidson provoked you." Gilchrist shook his head. "I don't think it would take any provoking to get your attention."
"Yeah, like your mate just happened to tell you that DI Davidson worked for Fife Constabulary."
"How did you get to St. Andrews?"
"Like I said, my mate drove me in his car."
"And dropped you at the Golf Hotel? Where did you go to first?"
"Over from Dundee? Straight to the Golf Hotel? Why?"
"I was thirsty. I wanted a beer."
"We've already got someone checking out CCTV footage. We'll find out what time you crossed the Tay Bridge, when you got to St. Andrews."
"And we'll pick up your mate, too," Nance said.
"Yeah, sure you will."
Gilchrist could tell from Donnelly's smirk that the man knew more than he was letting on. But Gilchrist also knew they could interrogate Donnelly through to midnight, and all they would be doing was massaging his ego. All of a sudden, he felt as if he was through with it all, through with interrogating thugs who cared less about their own lives than the lives of others, through with the pointlessness of it all. He pulled the file toward him and said, "How old are you? What, twenty-seven? And you've been incarcerated ..." He glanced up. "How's that for a big word?" then ran a finger down the page, working out the arithmetic. "Fifteen of your twenty-seven years." He looked at Donnelly, not sure what to expect, but the smile came as no surprise.
"Like I said, I like it inside." Then something died behind Donnelly's eyes, and he said, "Maybe your associate, Mr. DI Davidson, just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Gilchrist thought he kept his surprise hidden. He knew now that he was being toyed with, that Donnelly was not the dumb thug he painted himself to be. "So you stabbed him on the spur of the moment," he tried, "so you could spend some more time in jail?"
Donnelly sniffed, livened up. "Yeah, clever you."
Gilchrist pushed himself back from the table and stood. What was the point of it all, when you had thugs like Donnelly who did not fear the wrath of the law but welcomed it, a way to secure a roof over their head, three free meals a day, and a bed at night?
"Fancy a bit of sun?" he said to Nance.
She hesitated, but only for an instant. "South of France for the weekend?"
"I'm thinking somewhere warmer. Like the Caribbean. Swim, sail, soak up some sun, share a few cocktails." He glanced at Donnelly. "Pity you won't be able to do that for some time," he said, "lie on the warm sands of some golden, sun-drenched beach."
"Don't like the sun, can't stand darkies, and I hate the fucking beach."
"The sand gets in your butt crack?" quipped Nance.
Gilchrist shoved his hands into his pockets. "The Caribbean might be full of shaded people," he said to Donnelly, "but it beats masturbating to four walls or having your cock sucked by your cellmate." He smiled at Nance. "Want to discuss holidays over a pint?"
When Gilchrist left the interview room, he excused himself from Nance and visited the Gents. He was relieved to see the place deserted, which gave him time to pull himself together. Donnelly's smug voice came back at him — the wrong place at the wrong time — repeating itself like an echo that whispered and resounded and refused to fade.
Gilchrist had not told Stan of his fears. But he felt sure Stan would work it out for himself, once he healed. He eyed the mirror, ran the tap, splashed cold water over his face, trying to cool a guilty heat that flushed his face.
The wrong place at the wrong time.
Christ, it didn't bear thinking about.CHAPTER 3
Tuesday night The Stand Comedy Club Woodlands Road, Glasgow
Gilchrist thought she looked small onstage, not diminutive — her baggy top suggested otherwise — more like she was out of her depth, in unsafe waters, a swimmer struggling against a rip current that changed direction without warning.
The rough Glasgow accent cut through the ambient din once more.
"Is that the best you can dae?" he roared. "C'mon, it's time to get aff."
"Isn't it past your bedtime, sonny?" she railed back at him.
"Goin to bed? Are you interested?"
Pint glasses chinked in drunken victory.
"Only if your old man's at home," she retaliated. "But if he looks anything like you, I wouldnae let any of my sheep near him."
A surge of laughter, a ripple of hard applause, drowned out the man's response. For a moment, it looked as if he would rise to his feet and stagger to the stage, but a hand on his shoulder from a man as wide as he was tall and a whisper in his ear suggested otherwise.
"And talking about sheep," she went on to mild laughter. "How many of you here like your whisky?"
Several hands lifted in unsteady embarrassment.
She spread one arm wide in mock surprise. "Is that the best youse can dae?" she mimicked. More arms lifted.
Gilchrist noted the loudmouth now sat silent, a scowl on his face, his mates subdued beside him, half-empty pints perched on the table, behind which the oversized man in his oversized suit stood guard.
"That's better," she said. "I know youse like your whisky. You're Scottish. Right?"
She waited a beat for a nonresponse. Beads of sweat glistened on her top lip. She was struggling to win the crowd, maybe losing more than she was winning over.
"And we all know what whisky's made from," she went on. "And it's mostly water." She strode across the stage, then back again, as if she had now discovered the power in her legs. "And where does the water come from?" she shouted. "The hills," she answered, then stopped and faced the audience. "And what's in these hills?" A pause, then, "Yes, you're allowed to say it," she egged on an elderly couple at a front table. "That's it, dear. Sheep," she concluded for them. "That's right," she said. "The hills are alive with the sound of ...?"
A woman near an exit sign chuckled, more in sympathy Gilchrist thought.
"Sheep shagging." A voice from the back.
"Close," she said. "Try sheep shitting, and sheep pissing." She faced the audience and nodded to a table by the corner of the stage. "So next time you take a sip of the amber nectar," she said to them, "give a thought to all these sheep."
The audience laughed. Someone shouted, "Go Jessie," and Gilchrist noticed the fat man was clapping the loudest. Jessie looked out across the pond of faces, as if imagining she was in the London Palladium, or maybe wishing she was somewhere else, somewhere far from that night's thankless audience. Then she smiled as her gaze settled on a young man — more boy than man — standing alone at the rear of the hall.
A quick wink, then back to the audience. "That's it," she said. "You've been a fantastic crowd." A wave of her hands. "Thank you, thank you. And good night."
Gilchrist clapped as well, a grin tugging his lips, as she strode off the stage as if she had just been called back for her third encore.
Excerpted from Life for a Life by T. Frank Muir. Copyright © 2015 T. Frank Muir. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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