Authors: Christopher Brookmyre
Chris Brookmyre has won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, the Critics’ First Blood Award for Best First Crime Novel of the Year, and two Sherlock awards. In 2007, Chris was given the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award for Writing. He lives in Glasgow with his family.
Also by Christopher Brookmyre
QUITE UGLY ONE MORNING
COUNTRY OF THE BLIND
NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
BOILING A FROG
A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY
THE SACRED ART OF STEALING
BE MY ENEMY
ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEBODY LOSES AN EYE
A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL
ATTACK OF THE UNSINKABLE RUBBER DUCKS
A SNOWBALL IN HELL
WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIEDCopyright
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Christopher Brookmyre
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
For Greg DulliContents
Also by Christopher Brookmyre
This Filthy Witness
Predator and Prey
King of Shadows
Trail of the Sniper
View from the Stage
The Phoenix and the Ashes
A Shot in the Dark
Just Because You’re Paranoid
Warlocks in the Mirk
Requiem for a Saint
Stings and Barbs
Prelude to a Kill
In the Blood
Rite of Passage
Instruments of Darkness
Yellow and Blue
The Gift of Motive
First Person Shooter
Point of Impact
The Fate of that Dark Hour
Stars, Hide Your Fires
The Tyrant’s Power Afoot
DeliveredPART IThis Filthy Witness
I took her life.
I cannot deny it, never have done, at least not to myself. Beneath a vast, black, star-spattered Highland sky, with our colleagues, our friends oblivious in the great house near by, I took her life.
I took her life, and my life was the better for her death. That is undeniable also; unpalatable, perhaps, an ugly truth but a truth just the same.
I have lived with this for three decades. I will not lie and claim not a day goes by that I don’t see her face; that may have been true once, during those first months, even first years, but in time the intervals between my recollections became greater, the fear incrementally diminished, the guilt more dilute. I can still see her now though, as vividly as on that night. I can still picture her face vibrantly alive, filled with colour and expression; and I can picture it blank and empty and drained, like a reflection of the full moon above. My memory of her is not faded, only stored away like the scene paintings from a struck set. Every so often something inside me calls for a revival.
No stage illusion, no theatrical artifice, no trick blood would ever look convincing enough to me again. That night I learned what death truly looked like.
I can still see the pale skin of her arms and legs in that short-sleeved dress, her limbs folded awkwardly about her where she lay, like a ventriloquist’s dummy or a marionette, a doll’s eyes locked forever in a glassy stare. It was not a stare that accused. It stared past me, focused on a place no longer in the same world as the one I inhabited.
She lay in the soft earth, the moon shining down to dimly light her funeral procession, trees her pall-bearers, the eyes of timid, fearfulcreatures blinking unseen as they bore witness (and one of those timid, fearful, unseen creatures would turn out to be human).
No words were spoken over her grave, no tributes and no tears. It was solemn, however, and silent.
I could hear music coming from the house. It sounded distant, disconnected from this place I was standing, an island in time where no one yet knew what had happened. And yet it was so close. All it would take was someone to come looking for me, for her, and that island would be engulfed. I had the chance to maintain that disconnection, but as it carried on the night air, the music reminded me that I had to act fast and remain resolute.
They say that justice, like love, is blind. I knew that I must deny both. She would not have justice. I would not have love. But for all that, I would live free. I would not spend my best years in prison as the price of one moment of desperation.
I knew the decision I was making, and I’ll tell you now that I would make it again. For all my guilt, from which I have never been free, I know that my life – and more importantly, my future family’s lives – were served better by my actions than any notion of ‘justice’ would have been served by the truth.
Each death changes the world. Not so much as each birth, true, but certain deaths change the world more than others. This death changed so many worlds, so many lives. At the time I saw only how it would change my own, but the roots and tendrils already intertwined between so many of us – though some of us had known each other mere weeks – meant that we would all be in some way transformed.
Ibsen said that ‘to be oneself is to kill oneself’. He meant that in order to truly become who you are, you must first kill off all the other possible selves you might be. If you don’t you become as Peer Gynt, like an onion, each layer peeling away to reveal another, but with ultimately nothing at its centre. None of us finds who we really are without sacrificing those other selves and cauterising the stumps where we severed the dreams that held them in place.
Sometimes we kill off those other selves, and sometimes they are killed for us.
A young woman’s life ended that night:allthe selves she would ever be, and that is something I have never allowed myself to lose sight of. But so many other lives ended too: lives we might all have led, different people we might all have become, had that night played out differently. How many of us would go back and change it, though? There’s a question.
We were all transformed, for better or worse. Some of those transformations took time, but the greatest of them were instantaneous. Life into death; human into animal; morality into sheer instinct: how much can change irrevocably in a twinkling. Hers was the worst change, of course, the most horrifying, not only to the hands that wrought it and the eyes that saw, but to anybody. How could she, how could any of us, be in one moment a human being – animate, warm, alert, responsive, infinite entities impossibly contained within a single form – and then in the next merely a discarded vessel, all those things it carried irretrievably lost?
And what is changed in the person who did this? Is he made something different by the act, or first made something different before he can commit it? Perhaps it is both. Either way, I knew that in killing I had been altered by the deed, but on that night saw a chance to prevent myself becoming the deed’s creature.
I took her life, covered up her murder and left everyone else to live their transformed lives beneath the slowly corrosive drip of unanswered questions. I left suspicion and bitterness, anger and blame, the hollow ache of absence and the gnawing agony of not knowing. For doing that, I feel regret and I feel remorse, but I feel no guilt. My guilt I reserve only for her.
I don’t like to consider how much the others would hate me if they learned the truth, but deep down they must all know that the blame is not for me alone to carry.
I was not the only sinner among us, and far from the worst.Predator and Prey
Good things come to those who wait, Jasmine thought to herself. It had been a long time coming, and the road had been neither straight nor smooth, but after all these years she finally had an acting job in theatre.
Jasmine had wanted to be an actress since she was six years old. She knew the age exactly because she could pinpoint the precise moment – or at least the precise evening – when this ambition had taken hold. Her mum had taken her to the theatre from the age of roughly three and a half, from Christmas pantomimes at the King’s to children’s plays at the Traverse, some of which were interactive to the point of almost functioning as crèches. She preferred the pantos inasmuch as she preferred anything that took place under a proscenium arch, before circles and balconies, an orchestra pit and ladies selling ice cream. Even when Mum took her to a kids’ matinee performance ofThe Very Hungry Caterpillarfeaturing a cast of three and providing an early introduction to minimalism in terms of costume and production design, the fact that it took place at the Festival Theatre on Nicholson Street made it a spectacle in itself. Though the steeply towering layers of seating were spookily empty and the actors all but lost upon such a great wide stage, it felt more like a proper show than anything she had been sat in front of at any of the city’s more intimate venues.
She preferred it to her early experiences of the cinema too, which had been divided between the plasticky sterility of the multiplex at Newcraighall and the sticky-carpeted gloomy auditoria to be found in the city centre. At that tender age, however, these theatrical spectacles didn’t make her dream of treading the boards any more than the films she saw made her imagine life as a movie star.
Her epiphany came when she was taken to see a production ofJuno and the Paycockat the Lyceum. It would be redundant to state that this was not really a production aimed at six-year-olds, but in a way that itself was the catalyst. Her mum was supposed to be going to see it alone, before meeting up with some friends she had in the cast and crew for a late supper. For a single mother with a full-time job, it was a rare and relished opportunity for an adult night out, but unfortunately the babysitter phoned to cancel less than an hour before she was due to turn up.
Her mum instantly accepted that her late supper was now a write-off, but dearly wanted to see the play. She elicited from her daughter sincere vows of good behaviour, balancing her solemn homilies about the importance of sitting quietly in her seat with promised rewards of ice cream at the interval and chips on the way home. Jasmine, in her ignorance, didn’t understand why her mum had such anxious reservations, never having sat through anything that wasn’t punctuated by singalong musical numbers and the tossing of bags of sweets into the audience.
In the event, Jasmine’s vows were never put to the test, as Mum bumped into her friend Kirsten front of house as she queued at the box office, intending to return her single seat in the stalls for two together wherever might be left. Railroading through Mum’s typical reluctance to inconvenience anybody or accept unearned favours, Kirsten escorted them backstage, where she said Mum could watch the performance from the wings, and where Jasmine might be found various things to amuse herself, to say nothing of being relieved of the requirement to sit still for the best part of three hours.
Jasmine thought Kirsten must be the head of the ushers, as not only was she allowed to go anywhere in the theatre, but she evidently had the power to grant Jasmine and her mum any seat they liked, even special ones to the side of the scenery. Jasmine learned later that Kirsten was actually ‘the director’ of the play, though it was several more years still before she had any understanding of what this meant.
Jasmine was brought a drink with a straw, a bag of sweets and a pad and pencils for drawing and colouring, and told she could play on the floor by her mum’s feet as long as she remained quiet and didn’t stray past a line on the floor marked out in yellow tape.
Her drawing efforts did not last beyond the gunshot that rang out at the beginning of the production. It gave her quite literally the fright of her life, calling her attention not only to the action on the stage, but the action all around her. Jolted away from the cosy little bubble of her sweets, her drink and the comfort of her mum’s legs, she suddenly noticed how the scenery and backdrops looked up close. She became aware of the platforms, ramps and stairways the actors were using to access different areas of the set, as well as the slides, pulleys and counterweights that were making elements zip in and out of place. And if the gunshot had initially summoned her attention, what held it thereafter was the actors themselves.
Prior to this, people she had watched on stage had seemed little different to the people she watched on TV. They inhabited this unreachable otherworld, barely more real or tangible than cartoon characters. That night, she saw not only that they were real people, brushing past in a waft of heat and smells, but she witnessed them each become something altogether different from themselves. They stood in the wings or behind the backdrop in their costumes, faces painted vividly with make-up so thick that close up they were like circus clowns. Some would chatter quietly to one another, some remained alone and withdrawn, but when they stepped on to the stage they instantly became other people. Their accents changed, their posture and manner changed; they even seemed taller or shorter than mere seconds before. Women in tears made their exits and then traded little smiles and jokes once they had cleared the sightlines. An actor stood alone: reflective, shy and even a little sullen, then stepped before the audience and was instantly a cheerfully drunken and voluble braggart.
Having been taken to all those pantomimes and other shows, six-year-old Jasmine was already familiar with spectacle. This, however, was magic. She knew that night that theatre was no longer something she merely wanted to watch. It was something she wanted to be part of.
When she played with her dolls thereafter, it wasn’t make-believe. Some of them were the cast, others the audience, and whatever the former were about – whether it be tea parties or hair dressing – itwas all part of a play. She recalled gluing together kitchen-roll tubes and panels cut from cardboard boxes, placing them either side of her doll’s house, its front hinged open where it sat on her bedroom floor. It was no longer a doll’s house. It was a stage set.
She took part in children’s drama clubs, youth theatre groups, school musicals; and with her mum being a drama teacher whose time and duties were divided between two separate secondaries, when Jasmine wasn’t acting she was helping sew costumes, paint backdrops and fashion props.
When it came to her vocation, there was no question of Jasmine having a Plan B.
She recalled her mum’s pride, delight and no little relief when Jasmine got accepted into the Scottish Academy of Theatre and Dance, even though it would involve her daughter flying the nest and taking up residence through in Glasgow. Any fears Mum might have for Jasmine being on her own away from her vigilant eyes in a different city (and one whose darker side Beth Sharp was warily familiar with) would prove unfounded. She certainly didn’t have to worry about her little girl being seduced by the temptations of her student lifestyle. Jasmine had been seduced by a jealous suitor way back at the Lyceum and remained monogamously single-minded to the point of anti-social where it came to the study of her chosen craft. She relaxed and began letting her hair down a bit more during her second year, but admittedly even that had a vocational element to it, as she began to appreciate how important it was to be making contacts and getting her face known in certain circles. Whatever it took, she was going to do it.
Then Mum got sick.
It was around the start of Jasmine’s final year that Mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given her unmerciful, unthinkable,impossibleprognosis. Jasmine dropped out of college and moved back in with her in Corstorphine, to be with her as much as possible during the time they had left. Mum only had months, and Jasmine only had months left to spend with the person who had raised her, alone, the person she was closest to in the world, the person she could not possibly do without. But eventually, inescapably, Jasminewouldhave to do without.
People talk about picking up the pieces, getting back on with your life, but the pieces scattered around Jasmine looked like grains of sand on a beach, and she spent a lot of time in her mum’s empty house contemplating them, unable to assemble them into any pattern that made sense. She didn’t feel like she had a life to get back on with. She had no job, no career, no studies any more, and barely an echo of her previously consuming aspirations.
Eventually, she decided to move back to Glasgow and the little flat she still rented, as a means of forcing herself to push forward, of making some attempt to re-gather the threads of her ambitions. And they were ambitions now, at best, not dreams. Dreams were what little girls had as they squatted in the wings at their mother’s feet.
All she had left were pragmatic necessities, amid the rather unsettling realisation that she had, as the phrase goes, her whole life ahead of her. This sounded to her a daunting and arduous prospect rather than a rallying cry for the passions of youth. Suddenly it didn’t seem so visionary to have spent her whole life in pursuit of a profession with an unemployment rate comparable with dinosaur obedience trainers and banking-sector humility advisers. To make matters worse, in a game where visibility was the key to opportunity, she had completely fallen off the grid. Nobody knew who she was, and among her former peers, those who hadn’t forgotten about her completely seemed to have assumed that she hadn’t merely dropped out of her course, but abandoned acting altogether.
Auditions were a struggle to come by. Sure, there were occasionally parts you could turn up and read for, but there were auditions and there were auditions. There was a difference between being asked to try out for something because the director thought you might be what they were looking for, and simply making up the numbers because protocol dictated that the audition at leastappearto be open.
The only real nibble she got was a call-back from Fire Curtain, a touring company founded by the prodigiously talented, formidably connected and more than a little capricious Charlotte Queen, who had been a year above Jasmine at the SATD. Charlotte claimed to have found the academy ‘a path too well-trodden’ in terms of a routeinto theatre, and cited ‘itchy feet’ as a further spur to setting up her own company at the precocious age of twenty-two. (To talented and connected should also be added ‘a bit posh’, which in Jasmine’s eyes made Charlotte’s bold move somewhat less of a gamble, as well as that bit easier to fund.)
Jasmine didn’t get the part, but was nonetheless tantalised by Charlotte’s suggestion that she’d be great as Miranda in a planned production ofThe Tempestshe had pencilled in as their Edinburgh Fringe project a year hence. In the meantime, with bills to pay, she reluctantly and very much half-heartedly accepted an offer of work from Uncle Jim, an ex-cop who ran his own private investigation firm. Jim sold it to her on the premise that in a business replete with ex-cops, he could really use someone whom his subjects wouldn’t recognise as such from a mile off, and further sugared the pill by claiming that it would require a degree of acting. Jasmine strongly suspected that Jim’s true motivation was a sense of familial duty towards his late cousin’s daughter, particularly given the patience he showed in the face of her serial incompetence.
Perhaps ironically, it was a reciprocal sense of duty towards Jim that made her stick it out, though admittedly it helped that it paid considerably better than bar work or a job in a call-centre. She didn’t feel entirely comfortable taking money for something she was rubbish at, but Jim seemed sincere in both his intentions and his faith that she would come good. Jasmine gradually began to dig in, despite the actor’s whispering angst that commitment to another job was a gentle way of letting go your dreams.
She was barely ready for the water wings to come off when she was hurled in at the deep end by Jim going missing, forcing her to play detective for real in attempting to track him down. She did so in the end, but Jim’s own end had preceded that, leaving her not only bereft once more, but technically unemployed.
Amazing what can change in a year; or nine months anyway. As she stood by Jim’s grave at the end of last summer, she’d never have thought that by the following spring she’d be acting in theatre. Unfortunately the theatre in question was one of seven in the surgical suite at St Mungo’s General Hospital, where Jasmine was currentlyworking as a clinical support worker, and the acting part was largely about concealing from the rest of the staff that, much as was the case in her fledgling PI days, she didn’t really know what she was doing.
Her present task was straightforward enough, at least now that she was beginning to get a handle on where various items of equipment were kept. She was wheeling in a stack for a laparoscopy. It looked very much like the kind of set-up they had at her secondary school for whenever the teacher wanted to show them a film or television programme: an aluminium trolley bearing a large monitor atop a short column of electronic equipment with cables spilling untidily out on all sides. The patient wasn’t even in the anaesthetic room yet, and once he or she was under it could still be ten or fifteen minutes before the surgeon showed up, so they were a long way off ‘knife to skin’.
There were two theatre nurses setting up as Jasmine entered: Sandra was unwrapping the sterile seals from a tray of surgical instruments, while Doreen was filling in some paperwork for an audit. They paid her little heed as she rolled the stack steadily through the double doors, but her arrival invited greater notice from Liam, the operating department assistant, who cast an interested eye over her as he chatted to a young and slightly nervy orderly named David.
Mr Assan was the surgeon performing the procedure, while Dr Hagan would be anaesthetising the patient. The power relationship there was as complex as it was delicate, but beneath that level there was less ambiguity. Among the theatre staff, Liam wanted everyone else to understand that he was the man in charge.
Liam was in his early forties, and had worked in the hospital for more than twenty years. Doreen and her three decades’ service could trump him in the ‘in with the bricks’ stakes, but he had arrogated a seniority in the pecking order that took little cognisance of rank and that he did not wear lightly. Even Geraldine, the theatre manager, seemed wary to the point of deference when she was addressing him.
With Jasmine being the new arrival, he had wasted little time in impressing upon her that he was the theatre suite’s alpha male, picking her up on every mis-step in what struck her as a rather transparentbid to undermine her confidence, albeit it wasn’t her position to judge, and she was certainly ensuring he didn’t want for opportunities to criticise. However, this didn’t represent the full repertoire of his territorial pissing.
‘Here, have you seen that new bird they’ve got doing the weather onReporting Scotland?’ he asked David.
Jasmine had caught the tail end of his last remarks, something about an ongoing dispute between two of the surgeons. It had been gossipy and guarded, a little snide but carefully circumspect. This was a sudden change in subject and register, and though she wasn’t the one being addressed she knew it was for her benefit.
‘Naw, I usually watch the news on Scotia,’ David replied uncertainly, clearly regretful that he couldn’t give the desired answer. He needn’t have worried. Liam wasn’t asking with a view to soliciting his thoughts. It was simply a pretext.
‘Aw, man, she looks pure filth. You can just tell. Serious, if I got hold of her, I’d leave her fanny like a ripped-oot fireplace. I’d be on her until the neighbours phoned the council aboot the smell.’
Jasmine knew this was for her ears, but though it was Liam who was talking, it was David who looked her way, a fleeting, uncomfortable glance.
Jasmine could feel her cheeks flush but she knew she mustn’t respond.
Sandra let out a tut followed by a disapproving sigh, while Doreen simply shook her head.
‘Whit?’ Liam snapped, looking round sharply at Sandra. It was hard to tell if he was more annoyed by her impertinence or by the fact that it wasn’t her response that was being sought. ‘Christ’s sake, just a wee bit of banter. Figure of speech, like.’
‘There’s ladies present,’ Doreen sallied in support, part complaint, part appeal.
‘It’s just youse old miseries that are making a fuss.’
Then, inevitably, he looked towards Jasmine, having found a way to return the focus to his original target. ‘You’re no’ bothered, are you, wee yin?’
There was laughter in his voice and a smile on his lips, but steelin his gaze as he eyed her across the operating table. To disagree was to get her card well and truly marked, while to accede was to betray Doreen and Sandra while inviting further such remarks.
‘I’m sorry, I was in a bit of a dwam. I wasn’t paying attention,’ she lied, offering all parties a way out.
Liam wasn’t for taking it.
‘I’m just saying you’re open-minded. Lassies your age aren’t all buttoned-up and prudish about sex, not like the older generations. A healthier attitude. That’s why the young lassies these days take an interest in how they look down below. Go into Boots and it’s full of wax strips and depilatories and all sorts. See, this pair here won’t even know what I’m talking about. Women their age, it must look like Terry Waite’s garden inside their kickers.’
He was giggling to himself as though this was just some benign frivolity, but nobody else was laughing. The two nurses were simmering silently while poor David stared at the floor, afraid to meet anyone’s eyes, least of all Liam’s. Jasmine knew that this was precisely the type of situation he’d been trying to effect. An atmosphere of tension and poison was a result for him: if everyone else was feeling on edge he had nothing to fear from any of them.
He was looking at her again, checking how she was taking it, waiting eagerly for her response now that she couldn’t play the same get-out card.
How on earth did I end up here, Jasmine asked herself, putting up with shit like this? Honestly. The things you had to do for money.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t quite follow,’ she told him. ‘Was there something in particular you wanted to ask me?’
‘Aye. I was trying to tell them you’re not bothered by us talking about this kinda stuff, so they shouldnae be stopping us just because they don’t like it. That’s right, isn’t it?’
Jasmine knew she had to eschew a response ostensibly agreeing with him and adding, in this spirit of sexual candour that permitted speculation about colleagues’ genitals, how she imagined he probably had a cock like a budgie’s tongue. Instead her words had to be measured and carefully chosen.
‘I don’t think you should be saying anything that makes the peopleyou’re working with uncomfortable, and what you just said was grossly disrespectful to all of us as colleagues and as women. I think you’d have to consider yourself very lucky if neither Doreen nor Sandra put in a complaint.’
Liam looked towards her with a glare that told her they probably weren’t going to be BFFs.
‘Oh, sorry, were you wanting my actual opinion, or just a wee bit of “banter”?’ she asked.
The atmosphere did not improve, but at least everybody was equally uncomfortable and Liam wasn’t getting to enjoy himself. What disappointed Jasmine, however, was that Sandra and Doreen thereafter seemed almost as pissed off at her as they were at Liam. Evidently, she shouldn’t have poked the tiger.
Once the operation was over, the patient was wheeled into recovery by Dr Hagan and Sandra, while Liam went off on a break, having said very little throughout. Jasmine was helping clear up, though she had learned not to touch anything until directed to do so by one of the nurses.
‘You’d better watch yourself now,’ Doreen told her quietly. ‘You’re new, so you weren’t to know, but you’re better just ignoring him. Get on his bad side and it’s more trouble than it’s worth.’
‘But he clearly thinks that’s acceptable, and it isn’t. You should put in a complaint.’
Doreen gave a sour laugh.
‘You think nobody ever has? Also more trouble than it’s worth. Behind his back, his nickname round here is Eliot.’
‘I don’t get it.’
‘As in Ness?’
‘Still don’t get it,’ Jasmine confessed.
‘What age are you?’
‘Before your time, right enough.The Untouchables.’
‘No, you don’t know the half. He’s a law unto himself, knows the system inside out. He’s well in with Brian Anderson, the Unison FoC, and he’s got Brian believing that all the complaints are trumped-up charges because management have it in for him. Well, technically that’s true: management would love to get rid of him, but they can never make anything stick.’
‘Why not? His behaviour today was in front of several witnesses.’
‘Nobody ever feels like talking by the time the grievance proceedings are heard. That’s why I’m warning you to watch out. He’s very intimidating. Christ, Sharon Murphy’s been off five months long-term sick with stress; Julie Philips was off the best part of a year and then put in for a transfer. He’s not daft either. There was a porter saw him moving boxes of drugs out the back door, which there’s been rumours about for years. Liam knew this porter was in a flute band, so he claimed the guy had made it up to get him sacked because he was a Catholic. Don’t think Liam’s darkened the door of a chapel in twenty years, but management panicked soon as he’d played that card. It was his word against the porter’s, same as it was his word against Sharon’s over the sexual harassment. As I say, it’s not worth it. Keep your head down. Stay out his way.’
Jasmine knew it was too late for that. She could try not to antagonise him any further, but the damage was done. Even if she kept her head down, as Doreen suggested; even if she did her best to physically avoid him, she suspected Liam would be making a point of seeking her out.
He didn’t wait long. It happened the next day.
Jasmine was wheeling a stack of equipment along the corridor following a colonoscopy list when Liam appeared at her side and began pushing the trolley too. His left arm was stretched across her shoulders, not quite touching, but enclosing her between him and the stack nonetheless.
‘Many hands make light work,’ he said.
‘I’ve got it,’ she said. ‘I’m fine myself.’
‘Don’t be daft. Between us we can have this back where it belongs in no time.’
His tone was polite and matter-of-fact, lacking any trace of grudge or aggression. It sounded like an olive branch, or at least as if it was supposed to.
Oh, you’re good, she thought. But not as good as you think.
‘I said I’m fine. I’d prefer it if you took your hand away. You’re crowding me and it makes me feel uncomfortable.’
His hand seemed to grip the steel a little tighter for a moment, probably an indicator of suppressed rage, then he let go, holding both hands up in an exaggerated gesture, giggling a little, as though mocking what an unnecessary fuss she was making.
‘Wouldn’t want that,’ he said. ‘Just trying to help out. I’m heading this way anyway. I’m going to orthopaedic theatre. Mr Williams has his usual over-long list this afternoon. Be lucky if we’re finished by seven.’
He kept walking alongside her, talking. Talking too much. Explaining himself when he didn’t need to. Jasmine felt a dull dread in her stomach. She wasn’t liking this.
They passed two nurses dawdling in the other direction, probably pacing themselves so that they’d have time to finish the packet of biscuits they were eating between them before they got back to their ward.
‘You know, nobody’s going to think you can’t manage by yourself just because you’ve accepted a bit of help,’ he said, still polite, still cheerful, still walking way too close alongside.
The room where the stacks were stored was just up ahead.
‘Icanmanage by myself and I’d rather you left me alone.’
Liam glanced forward and gave a dismissive shake of the head, a hollow smile remaining on his lips.
‘Just trying to help, hen.’
He skipped ahead a couple of paces and pulled open the door to the equipment room.
‘At least let me get this for you.’
Jasmine would have preferred he didn’t, but she didn’t really have a choice. He was already holding it. She looked up and down the corridor, disappointed to see nobody coming.
Liam looked at his watch, partly to mock her hesitation but possibly also to check how long before he was due in theatre.
Jasmine wheeled the stack through the open door and into the narrow storage room, where several similar trolleys were ranged against the walls. She heard the door close behind her and turned to see that Liam was standing in front of it. He put an arm across her shoulders again and began pushing the stack towards an empty slot.
‘Tricky parking these things,’ he said, his arm now resting across her neck.
The stack bumped the back wall and Jasmine turned around. Liam had both hands on the stack, either side of her arms, trapping her.
‘Let me past,’ she said. ‘You shouldn’t have followed me in here. I find what you’re doing extremely intimidating.’
‘What? You that can manage by herself? You that doesn’t need anybody’s help? You’re saying you’re intimidated now?’
‘You’re a man twice my age and twice my size and you’ve got me pinned up close inside an enclosed space where nobody can see us. Yes, I’m intimidated. Let me past.’
Liam lifted his right hand from the stack and held it in front of her, but he didn’t move out of the way. Instead he waited until she made to move, then he placed it upon her shoulder. He focused a steely stare into Jasmine’s eyes and slowly slid his hand downwards.
Jasmine took a breath and swallowed, both to fight back tears and to steady her voice to speak.
‘Your hand is on my breast,’ she said, just managing to keep the timbre of her voice above a whisper. It sounded like a cruel parody of words spoken in a lover’s clinch. ‘That is considered sexual assault.’
‘Not if it never happened,’ he replied, moving his face closer to hers, the sour smell of cigarettes on his breath. ‘Like you said, nobody can see us. Your word against mine, hen.’
‘Is that how it was with Sharon Murphy? Your word against hers?’
‘If you heard about Sharon, you’ll know what I’m trying to say here.’
Jasmine did: loud and clear. This wasn’t about sexual harassment: sexual harassment was merely the weapon he used. This was about power.
‘I don’t take shite from anybody,’ he said, almost nose to nose, his right hand lightly squeezing her left breast. ‘Not from torn-facedboots like her and not from snobby wee cows like you. See I clocked your type right away. Student summer job is it? Just passing through so you think you’re better than the likes of me. Talking all proper, like you’re giving a commentary. “Your hand is on my tit,”’ he mimicked. ‘Think you’ll be buying and selling me one day, don’t you. Well I’ve got news for you, bitch. In here, I’m the one that owns you.’
Jasmine reached to his hand and pulled it away from her.
‘I think that’s enough,’ she said.
‘I’lldecide what’s enough,’ he growled, throwing off her grip and replacing his hand on her breast.
‘Actually, I think you’ll find it’s a third party who’ll decide it’s enough. More than enough.’
She had spoken clearly but he didn’t hear what she was telling him.
‘Third party? You still arenae listening, are you, hen? Your word against mine, remember, and who are they gaunny believe? I’m an ODA, been here twenty-odd years. You’re in the door five minutes and you’re just a clinical support worker.’
Jasmine allowed herself a smile.
‘That’s where you’re really quite disastrously wrong,’ she told him brightly.
She could see the change of tone provoke first surprise, then confusion and then, as she went on, true, exquisite horror.
‘I’m not a clinical support worker, I’m a private investigator, and the reason I’m giving a running commentary is for the benefit of your employers who are listening in. Hence you’re profoundly mistaken about your own job status too: trust me on this, maggot, youwerean ODA.’King of Shadows
The tallest trees stand like Greek columns, making a proscenium of a Highland glade, grass lush and soft beneath bare feet. A felled trunk lies at the centre like some minimalist modern sculpture, an ancient thing of indeterminate purpose: climbing frame, picnic table, bench and even bower. There are human figures curled before it, feigning sleep. The moon hangs impossibly above like a glitterball, a globe rather than a mere disc of light, shadows and contours rendering it perceptibly spherical. It looks mere miles away, and thus too solid to simply sit there unsupported, not like some wispy cloud that can plausibly drift upon the air. It appears thus because though it is evening, the sky is not yet dark. All above the trees there is clear blue, minute by minute more tinged with the magenta promise of another summer’s day.
It may seem an incongruous setting for a malign conspiracy, but the hour is later than the light would indicate, and even the prettiest arbour hides secrets in its shadows.
A demon and a god stand either side of the felled trunk, malice in their souls, but neither is the darkest spirit lurking amid the woods this midsummer’s night.
‘Captain of our fairy band,’ the demon addresses the god. ‘Helena is here at hand, And the youth, mistook by me, Pleading for a lover’s fee. Shall we their fond pageant see? Lord, what fools these mortals be!’
‘Stand aside,’ his lord replies. ‘The noise they make Will cause Demetrius to awake.’
‘Then will two at once woo one; That must needs be sport alone; And those things do best please me that befal preposterously.’
The audience observes from three rows of tiered seating atop an articulated trailer, one end of which is hitched to a tractor. There is no need of a curtain nor of slides or backdrops, as each change of scene is effected by the audience being relocated to another part of the castle grounds, where their champagne flutes are replenished silently and solicitously by waiting staff in black tie and cocktail dresses. A susurrus of fizzing greets each new act like quiet applause, giving way to occasional whispers, a resultant modicum of shushing, the low buzz of phones on vibrate and, as the performance draws on, in one instance light snoring.
The sleeper apart, most of the audience are enjoying the play; or at least telling themselves that they are enjoying the play, for not to would be to admit to lacking in culture. Some would have preferred seats for Murrayfield, or even seats forMamma Miaif theatre was the theme, but they know that this is a privilege. The greater part of its worth is in simply being able to say that you were there, that you were invited, as this trip is regarded as a cut far above the corporate hospitality the bank ordinarily proffers. It says something about your standing if you are taken to Cragruthes Castle: not merely your worth as a client, but the class of individual the bank perceives you to stand among. This is no mere dramatic spectacle either: the play is bracketed by dinner in the grand hall and overnight accommodation in rooms fit for (and in some cases previously used by) royalty.
Among the audience there are those whose appreciation of the evening is less equivocal, and they are as distinct in this as they are in their dress.
One is the man in trews. He is as relaxed and content as he has been since this time last year, though there is just a tiny shade of melancholy running through his reverie: of regret at a different life never led. His pleasure is twofold. He is the Laird of Ruthes, owner of the castle that has been in his family for four centuries, but none of his forebears were so challenged by the burden of its upkeep. Even before the predations of the credit crunch upon his portfolio, he had been forced to look for ways in which the castle and its policies could pay for itself, and corporate entertaining has proven its saviour. Cragruthes was not big enough, not of sufficient historical importance nor stuffed with the requisite treasures to attract the level of whatthe consultant called ‘footfall’ required to make it worth opening its doors to tourism. However, as a venue for select events it had what he was told was ‘high-end niche value’. Thus businesses could hire it to conduct top-level meetings amid aristocratic luxury, or to reward their executives – or perhaps their clients – with a few days’ private and exclusive hunting and fishing. These activities proved lucrative, but by their nature they tended to be sporadic and unpredictable. For eight years now, the most reliably consistent revenue stream on the calendar has been the midsummer plays staged in the grounds. The troupe are, strictly speaking, amateurs, but their company does get paid, and handsomely. This engagement goes a long way towards funding whatever else they choose to produce throughout the year.
The plays run for two weeks, accommodating twelve performances, weather permitting. This traditionally includes a ‘dress preview’ for guests of the cast and the castle staff, but thereafter each night is sold as a package to a different corporate sponsor, minus a few house seats for the laird and his guests. The laird attends most nights. This year he has taken in five of the eight performances so far, but this one is particularly savoured, for falling on the twenty-first of June itself.
The second and greater part of his pleasure is in simply watching the actors work. He is their host and their patron, so it gives him a glow to feel part of their enterprise. The first couple of nights he will allow himself to become lost in the story, but after that the thrill for him is almost Brechtian in appreciating the artifice. It takes him back decades, to his student days: lets him revisit a time that was far from responsibilities, a time when he got to be somebody else.
He only gets to watch now. It is enough, but there still burns inside him an unquenched desire to participate. He knows he couldn’t, though. It wouldn’t do, for one thing, and besides, he’d be too self-conscious. The rehearsal schedule might also be a problem, and he’d hate to let anybody down.
He knows they would accommodate him if he asked: they wouldn’t turn him away even if he was rubbish, and he knows that would be wrong. This isnotrubbish. It never is. It’s not the RSC either, but these corporate packages wouldn’t be selling out if the plays were not beautifully staged.
He smiles at the weaver’s words:
‘First, good Peter Quince, say what the play treats on, then read the names of the actors, and so grow to a point.’
They are school teachers and GPs, housewives and IT consultants. They are the rude mechanicals of their day, but they are not shambling fools here to be patronised and indulged. He’d call them accomplished amateurs, but they’re raised above that by a certain guiding hand. There’s a touch of genius in there, and no matter what base stuff dilutes it, the essence remains.
Alongside the laird is a man in a kilt. He has frequently watched the finest of actors, their performances shaped by brilliant directors, framed amid the craft of visionary designers, and yet he is transported too. He loves the setting, loves not just the staging of theatre outdoors, as it was first performed, but of this beautiful outdoorsasa theatre. He senses the pure joy of performing from the cast, knows they’ll live off this thrill for months to come. They don’t know and wouldn’t care whether the audience is half cut, half asleep or half engaged with texting their friends.
He notes with approval that the actor playing Theseus is also playing Oberon; and how Hippolyta is similarly doubled with Titania. He thinks of Peter Brook’s production at Stratford in 1970, though surely Brook was far from the first. So many small companies of players down the centuries must have done likewise as they calculated which characters must be on stage at the same time. Few, however, could have anticipated the sexual resonance this casting gave in Brook’s production, amid its trapezes, scaffolds, ramps and metal trees.
At his present age, it is the sexuality between these older pairs that the man in the kilt finds himself relating to, far more than the four young lovers being tormented by Robin Goodfellow.
‘Then will two at once woo one.’
As the demon spoke these words, the man in the kilt would have to admit he thought not of Helena, but of Titania.
The actress playing Titania and Hippolyta is in her fifties, like him, which some might say is a little old to be counting down the days and nights as her nuptial hour draws on apace. She looks youngerthan that, though, and not just because of the dimming light, the make-up or the distance. It’s stage presence. It’s grace. In the vulgar modern coinage, she might be described as a MILF. To the man in the kilt, who has a more elegant frame of reference to draw upon, she is an heir of Madame Vestris. He knows Vestris understood that neither sex appeal nor sex itself was the preserve of the young. She went from opera to burlesque before taking to the popular stage and ultimately ruling the roost at the Lyceum. Men paid for plaster casts of her famous legs, and she always made sure her costumes showed them off. When Vestris staged this play she cast herself as Oberon, and in playing a man paradoxically accentuated her femininity, invoking the ambiguous, fetishistic sexuality that is now familiar to every young male who sits wondering why he feels strange stirrings watching the pantomime’s principal boy.
Mostly, however, Vestris understood the power of spectacle: that the audience wanted to be transported, to see before them a different world. That is what the laird’s guest is enjoying most tonight. He is far from cares, from work, from worry, from the stress, the angst, the fears and the disputes of recent times. Like the laird, he is elevated in reverie: times past, different selves he once was, and reminded of different selves he might have been.
There is another observer who is similarly qualified to appreciate the play on a level far higher than the corporate visitors. He does not sit among them, however, for he is no one’s guest. Instead, both spectacle and audience are magnified for his vision courtesy of Carl Zeiss optronics.
Like the man in the kilt, his thoughts alight on various stagings of this play that he has witnessed personally or read about in books and, coincidentally, one of those is Peter Brook’s. In his case, though, he is thinking with regard to tonight’s audience rather than its players. To them, Ben Kingsley is at best Gandhi, at worst a Hollywood villain, while Patrick Stewart is the captain of the Starship Enterprise or the leader of the X-Men; not, respectively, Demetrius and Snout.
Pearls before swine. They are treated as though they are cultured because they are in the higher echelons of finance and commerce,two areas whose denizens, in his experience, have consistently proven more synonymous with philistinism.
Despite his distaste for the audience, this uninvited observer is transported too: taken back in time to another highland estate and another Shakespeare play.
A thin smile makes its way across his lips as he recalls it. Act One, Scene One. A desert place.
When shall we three meet again.
Tonight, as fate would have it.
We three: one who authored a fell deed, one who was witness, and one who remains protected by ignorance of the truth.
But the hurly-burly’s not yet done.
The tractor moves thrice more, finally returning to its starting point before the grand avenue leading to the front of castle, which, as at the play’s opening, comes to represent Athens. The floodlights are on now, the moon merely one more shining disc, and the theatre space in front of the audience more truly resembles a stage for being picked out against the gathering dusk.
The young lovers have resolved into their rightful couples, meaning Theseus and Hippolyta can look forward to their wedding in a spirit of harmony, reflected in the reconciliation of their shadow-selves, Oberon and Titania.
It is time for the demon of the woods to have his final say.
‘Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends.’
There is enthusiastic, if champagne-fuelled, applause as the players enjoy their many bows. Then the laird steps down from the trailer and bids his guest to join the gathering beneath the lights, announcing him with great fanfare, which makes the man in the kilt blush just a little, embarrassed that he might steal any of the limelight, for this is not his moment but theirs.
He is handed a fresh flute of champagne as he steps down on to the ground and picks his steps carefully on the soft grass.
‘Give me your hands, if we be friends,’ he says, and the cast move to greet him. They seem giddy, almost over-excited, and predictable jokes are made about this being their big break due to the influencehe wields in the world of the arts. He knows this excitement is not about him; he is merely its outlet. They are still buzzing and jangling from their performance.
The actress playing Titania gives the laird a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek as she accepts his congratulations. The laird wonders at her accent, that trace of the Antipodes detectable in the odd word, despite her having lived the majority of her life here in Scotland. Some things shape you for the long haul, he reflects, no matter what twists and turns your life may take. Certain events, certain decisions, the marks of certain experiences are simply indelible.
A man with a camera moves to the centre in front of the trailer and a picture is called for. The man in the kilt makes to step clear, but both the laird and the actress playing Titania insist he remain. He and the laird stand where they are while the cast assemble themselves into a practised tableau: Titania and Theseus pose on one knee, hands outstretched to touch each other’s shoulders, like they are about to embrace. They are flanked by Puck and Bottom, the four lovers lying at their feet, heads resting on palms above pivoted elbows.
The photographer asks them all to smile.
The man in the kilt has been photographed many times, though he has always been the man behind the scenes, the facilitator for more talented others. He knows to suck in his cheeks and close his eyes for a moment, which will help him hold his expression. He raises his champagne flute in a gesture of salute. The camera flickers, the red-eye-reducing pre-flash. The man with the kilt blinks in reflexive response, then his head bursts open and he jolts sharply backwards, as though reeling from a slap.
He slumps down, the power gone from his legs, half his face torn away, liquid and matter spread around him on the grass.
As the screams ring out, the demon of the woods spirits himself deeper into the darkness from whence he was summoned thirty years before.Easy Money
Jasmine knew what she was looking at the moment the client walked through her office door. She was conscious that, at twenty-one and barely a year into working as a private investigator, she was probably a little young to be sounding hardboiled, but it wasn’t that she had become experienced and cynical enough to recognise a wide taxonomy of clients on sight: just this particular sub-genus, as she had seen a lot of specimens since last September.
Jesus, had it really been that long she’d been doing this? The calendar said yes, though the date didn’t really resonate, mainly because the weather of late had felt nothing like late spring. Ithadbeen that long, though: it was almost June. Wimbledon would be starting in three weeks, and that did resonate, because all through her school years the sight of tennis whites on the telly had meant the summer holidays were almost upon her.
It had been at Jim’s funeral that his eldest daughter, Angela, took Jasmine aside and told her about the will. Jim had left Sharp Investigations to his family, not as a specific bequest but simply under a general directive covering a variety of things. The family had discussed it and decided it would be fitting to offer the business to Jasmine, not least because they were sure it was what Jim would have wanted. It was a kind gesture but not one so munificent as to make her feel duty-bound to accept. By Angela’s admission, the business was almost worthless except as a going concern and, having been a one-man operation prior to Jasmine’s brief recruitment, it wasn’t going to be going at all without her. The office was rented, so there was no property tied into it, and other than a van that might be worth two or three grand at trade in, the only material assets were barely worth liquidating. There was an ageing PC that most third-world charities would turn up their noses at, particularly given thatit lacked an operating system due to the hard disc having been completely erased by the conspirators responsible for Jim’s death. There was a range of surveillance equipment and covert recording devices that had probably cost a few grand to amass, but for which the second-hand market was extremely limited. Like the business itself, they were only worth something if they were being put to use.
Angela didn’t put her on the spot. She gave Jasmine a few weeks to consider the offer, aware of her truncated dramatic training and how heavily those years weighed in the vocational stakes against her brief few months as Jim’s barely – or rarely – competent assistant. Jasmine was equally decorous in saying she would take those weeks to mull it over, when her instinctive response was to tell Angela to terminate the lease on the office and stick all its contents on eBay.
However, something quite unexpected beset Jasmine at Jim’s funeral, as it had also done at the commemorative services held in the wake of the Ramsay case. People were saying thank you to her. Grown-up people, people generations older than her, were taking her hands in theirs and offering often tearful gratitude in acknowledgment of what she had done for them. Since her mother’s death – and throughout the months preceding its inevitability – Jasmine had spent so much time feeling afraid, vulnerable, abandoned: a lost and scared little girl.
When she was eight years old, one Saturday afternoon she came back from playing at a friend’s house to find her mum’s front door locked and no answer to the bell, no matter how many times she tried it in her growing, tear-streaked desperation. What she most recalled was the feeling of rising panic giving way to cold dread as she realised that she didn’t know where her mum had gone, it never having occurred to her that her mum could be anywhere other than at home in the flat waiting to welcome her inside. It didn’t – simply wouldn’t – cross her mind that Mum might have nipped out to the shops, nor did it strike her that Mum had been expecting her back at five as usual, when in fact Jasmine had returned closer to quarter-past four, cutting her visit short because Rachel’s annoying younger cousin had turned up and ruined their game.
All she knew was that her mum wasn’t there, and it utterlyterrified her. She had stood at the door in a tearful blur, feeling helpless. Theirs was a basement flat with its entrance down a short flight of steps beneath street level, so she was enclosed in her own isolated little courtyard of fear and misery, no neighbours noticing and coming down to offer help. Eventually she pulled herself together enough to come up with a plan of action, which was to return to Rachel’s house, where there were other trusted adults. She felt reluctant to implement this plan, however, as it seemed to cement the idea that her mum had gone away and left her; as though by embarking on the journey back to Rachel’s house she was taking her first steps into a world without her mum.
After Mum’s death, that combination of rising panic and cold dread was something she felt almost every day, burned into her emotional memory and anchored to that specific incident. She became that terrified eight-year-old over and over again as she stared beyond the precipice into this world of isolation and responsibilities. At her best, at her most together and controlled, she felt like she was doing nothing more than walking back to Rachel’s house in search of other adults to look after her.
At those services following the Ramsay case, she was made to feel that she had – without trying to, without even realising it – been the one doing the looking after; that she had given all of these people something that made them feel less scared and confused. She held outstretched hands and looked into earnest, solemn faces, and in their moist eyes glimpsed this young woman they were all looking at, someone very different to the lost and scared little girl she imagined herself to be. Perhaps for the first time in her life it gave her a genuine sense of what it felt like to be an autonomous, functioning grown-up.
She could still feel like a lost child inside, but maybe everyone else did too, and it was in the reflection of her deeds that she got to see the person the rest of the world saw when they looked at her. So maybe, just maybe, against all instinct and expectation, this was something she could do, and do well; something that might make her feel she had a purpose, and therefore less abandoned, lost and afraid.
What ultimately tipped the scales was the answering machine at the office, when she went back there after taking a couple of weeks to get her head straight. The phone rang when she was barely in the door so she let the machine take the call, at this point remaining unsure whether it was – or was at least going to be – her business. It was still Jim’s voice on the outgoing message, which was all the more unsettling for the time that had passed since his death. He sounded affable without being inappropriately breezy, encouraging without promising the Earth. But none of the messages – and there were plenty – were for him. Without exception, it was her name they asked for, because to each of the callers the Sharp in Sharp Investigations meant Jasmine.
She was aware that the story had been all over the media, but although she gave a few quotes to reporters she had been too caught up in the aftermath to pay the coverage any heed. She didn’t want to read about it because she didn’t want to think about it. She just wanted to be past it. In her mind it had been a frightening and frequently traumatic few weeks, just something awful that had happened to her, and something far worse that had happened to Jim. She forgot that, to the outside world looking in, the story was about a multiple murder case that had remained a mystery for twenty-seven years until she became involved; and that as a result this little business that was hers to take or leave had recently enjoyed the publicity equivalent of a multi-million-pound national ad-spend.
Jasmine discerned immediately that many of the callers were under the misapprehension that Sharp Investigations was something a great deal grander than a one-woman show, with enquiries covering a spectrum from missing moggies to private bodyguard hire. This was why the most significant call was not from someone who had never heard of Sharp Investigations until a fortnight before, but from someone who had been doing business with Jim for years: Harry Deacon at Galt Linklater.
Harry had worked with Jim on the force, and when Jim first retired Harry had tried to recruit him for the big investigation firm. Jim preferred to go it alone, having felt compromised too often by the tangled and conflicting loyalties that complicated his police work.
Their relationship did prove mutually beneficial, however, as from Sharp Investigations’ inception a great deal of Jim’s work comprised sub-contracts from Galt Linklater, often supplementing their manpower on major jobs or taking stand-alone cases the larger outfit couldn’t cover.
Harry had introduced himself briefly at Jim’s funeral but had made no overtures towards talking shop. His message simply asked Jasmine to call back regarding ‘the resolution of outstanding contracts’. She had assumed this meant the formalities associated with whatever loose ends would be left hanging at Galt Linklater by Sharp Investigations ceasing to operate. Instead, Harry laid out an offer to keep the firm on a retainer, which would pay a minimum even on months that she wasn’t sub-contracted. He added that he expected this would prove moot, stating blankly that if Jasmine could clone herself he could keep both versions busy most months. This was for precisely the reasons Jim had laid out when he recruited her: they could always use somebody who didn’t look like an ex-cop, somebody their subjects would never see coming.
Jasmine asked if it mattered whether this somebody actually knew what she was doing, a corrosive little voice in her head seizing upon a sense of déjà vu. She recalled her scepticism when she had heard the same rationalisation from Jim, whom she had believed simply to be acting out of duty towards a relative recently deceased.
Harry had responded by acknowledging that he knew she still had plenty to learn, and that Galt Linklater’s guys would help her out, as Jim had, with on-the-job training. She was about to ask – with pronounced dubiety – whether Jim had ever mentioned how that on-the-job training had been going, when it hit her with some surprise that he must have, and that his accounts may not have comprised what she assumed.
This guy owed Jasmine nothing, even if he had been close to Jim both personally and professionally. This offer wasn’t charity, and what was really a jolt was that it proved Jim’s hadn’t been either. It struck her that not only did Harry’s offer indicate that he believed she could do the job, but that Jim must indeed have spoken to him about how she was shaping up – and the implication was that Jim hadn’t beenlying out of kindness all those times he’d reassured her she was doing better than she thought.
Some of those times, undoubtedly, but not all.
‘Didn’t Jim tell you about my screw-ups?’ she asked uncertainly.
‘Aye. But you should hear other people’s screw-ups.’
Jasmine forced herself to admit she’d never been handed so much on a plate before, between what Jim’s family and Galt Linklater were laying in front of her. Her discomfort at door-stepping people under false pretences, or covertly following them around, not to mention her discomfort at catastrophically screwing up the basic fundamentals of both, died hard in the memory, and she knew that, soon enough, she’d be tasting both flavours again if she signed up for more. However, she had to acknowledge that it also felt pretty good when she got something right, especially when bringing her acting abilities to bear had been beneficial. Actors talked about live performance being high-stakes, but for all it could feel like life and death when you were out on that stage, in reality the most they were risking was embarrassment. Jasmine knew what it felt like to be acting at gunpoint, and while she was in no hurry to play those odds again, it had all but erased her trepidation about ringing some personal-injury fraudster’s doorbell and pretending to be someone she was not.
She told Angela her decision, which seemed to mean a lot more to Jim’s daughter than Jasmine could have anticipated. She said it was a comfort to know that an important part of her father’s life was enduring, acknowledging the irony that while he was alive his over-dedication to his work had been the cause of much hurt to all of them.
Thus Sharp Investigations re-opened for business, under new management.
Galt Linklater kept her in the back seat for the first couple of weeks, often literally, but when she was finally deployed into the field she quickly began to understand why Harry, like Jim before him, was prepared to be so patient and encouraging. With a little bit of confidence in her armoury, she really was the secret weapon. She was their ninja, the one operative that even the most hardbitten subjects never saw coming.
Serving papers was a particular speciality. Jasmine was able to get an instant result with guys who wouldn’t answer their front door to a middle-aged male but were eager enough when a fresh-faced young woman came striding up their garden path.
‘It’s okay, I’m not selling anything, I promise,’ was her standard opening, accompanied by a friendly, slightly self-conscious and therefore all-the-more innocent smile. It was Harry’s suggestion, a cute little piece of misdirection because it made the subject think that the worst he ought to be worried about was being asked to make a donation or sign up for something.
‘Do you get a lot of junk mail?’ she’d ask, almost unvaryingly receiving a response in the affirmative. ‘We’re offering a free opt-out service that will get your details removed from mailing lists. It doesn’t cost anything: we’re funded by Royal Mail to try to cut down on unnecessary carriage. Would you be interested, or are you content to keep receiving mail shots?’
That was when the mark was only too happy to give his name, which she would then ask him to confirm, whereupon she would flip over the top sheet on her clipboard and hand him the papers that had been tucked underneath.
In the early days her nervousness accounted for a few dismally faltering performances at front doors, but even her worst efforts yielded results. It had long been a source of grief to Jasmine that she looked younger than her years, sufficiently so that she anticipated being carded in pubs and clubs until she was pushing thirty. On the job, however, it worked like a force-field, deflecting all suspicion.
As well as donning a suit to look like a particularly earnest (and crucially guileless) young professional woman in order to serve papers, she could dress up or dress down according to the circumstances. She could play the student, the clubber, the jogger, the teenage daughter: just whatever it took to blend into the background for surveillance or allay suspicion when someone had to be made to identify themselves. Hell, she could pass for a schoolgirl if she needed to, though she had resisted doing so. She felt a little iffy about the ethics of it, but rather than rule it out completely she decided she’d keep it in her locker for just in case.
And, of course, she could play a newly recruited clinical support worker when Galt Linklater needed someone to go undercover at St Mungo’s General. This was precisely the kind of job they’d have struggled with or even had to pass up altogether before Jasmine became an available resource.
The South Glasgow NHS Hospitals Trust approached Galt Linklater with a view to gathering evidence against Liam O’Hara ahead of their planned sacking of him, reckoning that if they amassed enough damning material it would preclude an industrial tribunal. It wasn’t just theatre staff who referred to him as Eliot: hospital management were aware that he had worked long and resourcefully to make himself virtually unsackable. There was never any evidence against him other than individual testimony, which, as well as being uncorroborated, had a habit of being recanted the closer it came to a grievance hearing. Large institutions generally ended up simply having to tolerate individuals like Liam, having learned that attempting to get rid of them was more trouble than it was worth, particularly when it was doomed to failure.
What forced the South Glasgow Trust’s hand was the impact on manpower. It wasn’t just the nurses who had made complaints against him who ended up going off on long-term sick leave. Those who had incurred his bullying and intimidation for whatever other reason often decided that the best way of avoiding further harassment was to get their GP to sign them off with stress. The Trust was shelling out a lot of sick pay to people who would be perfectly fit for work if Liam O’Hara could be removed from the equation.
Without Jasmine, the most Galt Linklater could have done was place one of their middle-aged males in the hospital as a porter or orderly. He’d have been wired for sound and vision to observe and record Liam’s general conduct around his colleagues, in particular the way he used sexually inappropriate talk as a form of both intimidation and harassment.
That had been Jasmine’s basic remit too, but they expected they’d get a lot more of the real Liam on tape when the new element was a shy-looking young girl. Had it been a burly middle-aged man Liam might well have been more circumspect, in case thenew guy decided to clean his clock on behalf of an offended female colleague.
In the event, Jasmine’s involvement went a lot further than observe-and-record, though she had been very careful to avoid possible entrapment. That was why her responses consisted of spelling out explicitly how she or her colleagues might be feeling, her words sometimes almost verbatim from the Trust’s written policies. However, by standing up to Liam at all she had made it imperative that he put her in her place, and that was how she ended up serving him to his bosses on a golden platter.
It was almost worth getting her tit groped just to see the look on the sweaty creep’s face as he began to realise who was the predator and who was the prey.
But though Jasmine and Galt Linklater were proving very good for each other, sub-contracting wasn’t Sharp Investigations’ only revenue stream. As well as Jim’s own long-standing roster of legal firms, there was a new sub-set of individual clients who came specifically to seek out Jasmine, and that was what she instantly understood she was dealing with on this particular May morning.
She had no jobs booked that day, and Jasmine was anticipating – she wouldn’t use the phrase ‘looking forward to’ – a strictly office-bound shift, tackling a backlog of admin chores: from writing up surveillance reports to invoicing and, gulp, updating the company’s tax files. Harry Deacon kept telling her to hire an accountant, as she was too busy with practical work to be dealing with things like that. She was in complete agreement, and fully intended to do so, but the problem was that she was also too busy to have gotten around to finding one.
She didn’t mind writing up case-work, and would often catch up with that side of the job at home of an evening. Among the many lessons she had learned from observing Jim’s practices was the importance of logging every minor detail, no matter how apparently insignificant, no matter how strong the temptation to skip to the highlights. When a trail went dead you had to be able to re-trace your steps, and the detail you were missing might well be found along the path less travelled.
The accounts, however, she could neglect for weeks at a time, content to procrastinate in order to defer that horrible feeling she got whenever she opened up the books. It wasn’t that the accounts were particularly labyrinthine, or that she had no head for numbers; indeed, once she got going she was diligent and methodical about filling in every transaction. It was just that she spent the whole exercise worried that she was doing it all completely wrong, so that when the time finally came to submit a company tax return, none of what she had recorded would make any sense. Her resultant garbled filing would precipitate an HMRC investigation and she’d find herself in a Kafkaesque hell of endlessly resubmitting her figures until she went insane or to jail.
Thus the distraction of an unexpected inquiry was most welcome, doubly so given what Jasmine had come to recognise this particular type of client as representing:
She felt guilty admitting it to herself, guiltier still taking the jobs given that invariably she was getting paid to deliver bad news to sad old punters, but as she had learned on the Ramsay case, the not knowing is worse.
The woman looked late sixties or early seventies, her slim build but one aspect of a neat and precise appearance, from the tailored fit of her navy-blue three-piece suit to her beret above a full head of dark brown hair, not a strand of which was either astray or chromatically out of kilter with its neighbours. Her dress was neither that of a wee pensioner nor a woman in denial of her years, but soberly appropriate, the choices of someone who had always known what to wear – and been able to afford it. She was not merely slim, however, but noticeably drawn and rather gaunt, her face thickly made-up though certainly not gaudily so. A year ago Jasmine would have guessed she was looking at a chronic heavy-smoker’s face, and in fact if she’d met the woman anywhere else she’d have made the same deduction. But that she was standing inside Sharp Investigations, unannounced, offered a different perspective, and it wasn’t the office light that told Jasmine her full head of hair was not a full head of hair.
‘Hello, I’m looking for …’ she started uncertainly. ‘Would you be Jasmine Sharp?’
‘Yes, I am,’ Jasmine replied, pitching her tone at solicitous. ‘Why don’t you take a seat?’
Jasmine beckoned her further into the office and pulled a swivel chair across on its castors, positioning it in front of her desk. It struck her, as it always did, that she really ought to get hold of something more grand or at least formal-looking for seating clients, but it remained on the growing list of things she hadn’t got around to yet.
The woman settled herself gingerly into the chair, as though concerned the wheels might cause it to skite out from under her, while Jasmine went to put the kettle on. The kettle, the sink and a small fridge were in a partitioned area that formed a box within one corner, creating an L-shaped layout in the rest of the office. Jasmine found that if she just went off and filled the kettle before asking these older clients were more likely to accept the offer of a cup of tea or coffee as it looked like she was making one anyway. She wanted them to settle in and feel unhurried, as she knew they were probably feeling nervous, awkward and a bit dubious about even saying why they were here.
Jasmine already knew why this woman was here.
They always turned up in person, they didn’t phone ahead. Was it a generational thing, she wondered: you don’t go online, you don’t call up, you just go round to the local optician, local travel agent, local private investigator? Was it that they didn’t quite believe anything would be initiated if they merely spoke over the phone, even if – perhaps especially if – they were paying for it? Was it that they feared they’d be told she couldn’t help and they believed they’d have less chance of being turned down if she met them personally and saw their angst? On the other hand, it could be that they all wanted a look at Jasmine before deciding to engage her services. In that case, she was surprised they never recoiled at what they saw. Perhaps when you got to a certain age everyone below a particular threshold looked equally young, but most likely her appearance simply wasn’t a surprise because they’d remembered her age from the newspapers.
That, after all, was why they were here.
‘I’m trying to track down somebody I lost touch with a long time ago,’ the woman said, offering a nervous smile that was all about seeking approval and nothing about happiness or warmth. ‘Would that be, you know, something you could …’ she tailed off, visibly retreating into herself in the chair.
Jasmine nodded sincerely and solemnly. Yes, this would be something she could …
‘What’s your name?’ Jasmine asked, getting out her notepad.
‘It’s Alice. Alice Petrie. Mrs,’ she added, as though it was a point of honour.
That was definitely a generational thing. Women of a certain age could stress their married status in a way that made it sound like an OBE. Right enough: given Jasmine’s relationship history, or abject lack thereof, if she ever did manage to get married, she’d regard it as an achievement too.
‘And who is it that you’re trying to get in contact with?’
Jasmine liked to phrase it this way. Partly this was because terms such as ‘track down’ and ‘get hold of’ carried the rather stalkerish implication that the subject didn’t wish to be found, but mainly because to ‘get in contact with’ was something one did to people who were still alive. It was polite and reassuring to make the client think that their quest was one commenced in hope, even if its resolution was almost invariably the confirmation that the person they sought was long-since deceased.
This was the mixed blessing bestowed upon Jasmine in the wake of the Ramsay case: part dividend and part curse, like a two-headed spirit set loose by her disturbing the earth covering a long-buried past. A lot of people had played their part in finding out the truth of what happened to Jim, but the media had to frame the narrative in a way that simplified the story. In trying to find her missing uncle, Jasmine had played her part in uncovering the fates of three people whose disappearance had haunted and baffled police and press alike for twenty-seven years. Thus Jasmine became, in many people’s minds, someone who could find the missing relative they hadn’t heard from in decades.
They weren’t wrong, either. She had a one hundred per cent record so far. Unfortunately, they were one hundred per cent dead.
It was never people who had been missing for a month or a year, because people who were genuinely worried about someone wouldn’t go to a novice. They would go to the police, and if they had no evidence of foul play they’d go to an outfit like Galt Linklater, which was full of salty ex-cops. Whereas the people coming to Jasmine had probably never considered hiring a PI until they read about her in the paper. They were always in search of the long-lost, usually relationships severed in anger and bitterness that took too many years to transmute into regret.
At first she thought the law of averages ought to start pitching her a few happy endings to shape the bell curve, but Harry explained what was skewing it. If people are coming to a private investigator to find someone they lost touch with decades ago, it’s because all their own channels have proven fruitless. Most of the time – not all, he stressed, but most of the time – this will be because the subject died years ago, way before the client thought to start looking.
Jasmine now had contacts that allowed her to access information by means not immediately open to her clients. Through these she was able to establish, usually with very little effort and no greater time, where and when the subject had died. Sometimes she was even able to furnish them with the address of the cemetery where they were buried or commemorated.
It brought in money, but it was very depressing. Despite answering their uncertainty, it seldom brought closure, other than that of the door to their last hope of healing a wound that had been seeping for years. She saw it in their eyes when she showed them her findings. Inside, they had known this was the most likely explanation, but there was always that last ember still burning and she was not only extinguishing it, but charging for the service.
It always felt a little wrong, but she knew the alternatives were worse. Either they would go on, possibly to their graves, haunted by never finding out, and by never having tried hard enough to do so, or they could go to a less scrupulous investigator who might bleed them slowly of as much as he could squeeze, drip-feeding hints of progress to keep the money coming before ultimately giving them the same news.
‘Her name was Tessa Garrion.’
That was common too, the use of the past tense. They spoke like they were talking about someone they used to know, but the other implications hung in the air like ghosts.
Jasmine wrote the name down.
‘And how did you know her?’
Mrs Petrie’s mouth quivered a little, which told Jasmine the answer wasn’t going to be ‘childhood friend’. Anger and bitterness transmuted into regret, and throw in not a little shame at how long the process took. This was family.
‘She was my sister.’
Mrs Petrie’s speech threatened to falter as she began, but she recovered.
‘My younger sister,’ she added. She sounded guilty, as though these simple words were an admission of her fault in the estrangement.
‘When did you last speak to her?’
‘It was at our mother’s funeral.’
‘I see. And when was this?’
Jasmine paused for a beat, letting the significance have its moment.
‘That’s a long time,’ she said, pitching her tone as neutral as possible; too heavy might sound judgmental, too light potentially flippant.
Mrs Petrie nodded sombrely, eyes down.
‘Were there words?’ Jasmine asked.
Mrs Petrie gave a sad little shake of her head.
‘No. Not harsh ones, if that’s what you mean. But not many words of any kind.’
There was the rub. Whatever was wrong had been wrong before this funeral.
‘We weren’t very close. Not as close as we should have been, certainly, but the circumstances were …’
She dried for a moment, looking out of the window behind Jasmine, her face strained. She was trying to find a simple way of expressing something almost infinitely complex.
‘What you have to understand is that Tessa was a lot younger than me. I was fifteen when she … no, sixteen, in fact, when she was born. I left home to get married when she was six.’
‘And what age would she be now?’
‘Fifty-three. She was twenty-two when my mother died.’
‘And your father? Is he …?’
‘No, he died when Tessa was twelve. He was a good bit older than my mother. Seventeen years, give or take a few months. He had been married before but his wife died in childbirth. Lost the baby too.’
‘Tessa would have been very close to your mother, then,’ Jasmine observed, knowing a lot about growing up in such circumstances.
‘Close to both of them. She was their wee pet.’
‘Late additions get spoiled rotten,’ Jasmine suggested, nudging Mrs Petrie towards where she thought she needed to go.
‘Yes,’ she agreed regretfully, contritely even. ‘Looking back, I wouldn’t say she was spoiled; definitely not compared to kids these days. But at the time, I certainly thought so. I was resentful of the things she was allowed to do – and to get away with – because my parents had never been like that with me. I always felt I was on a tight leash, whereas Tessa was allowed to get away with murder. She wrapped them round her pinkie. Always knew how to grab the limelight.’
Mrs Petrie gave a bittersweet smile, some pleasure in the memory tinged perhaps with regret about how it had made her feel at the time.
‘I wasn’t the most tolerant big sister, I’d have to admit.’
‘I guess when you’re in your late teens and adolescence you don’t want a toddler cramping your style,’ Jasmine offered.
‘No, you don’t,’ she replied, once again looking towards the window, as though it was a widescreen TV and scenes from her life were playing on it.
‘So after you got married and moved out, did you stay in touch? I mean, did you move far away? Where are you from?’
‘Dumfries,’ she replied, causing Jasmine to repress a self-reproaching tut. She normally had a very precise ear for locating accents, but there was a certain middle-class Scottish neutrality to this one that had flummoxed her. Most times when she found herselfunable to place this accent it had hailed from the western side of the Borders – Wigtonshire or Dumfries and Galloway – yet whenever she encountered it again, it failed to pop into her head as an option.
‘I grew up in Dumfries, I should say. When I got married I moved to Cornwall, where my husband is from.’
‘Not handy for an afternoon visit,’ Jasmine noted.
‘No, I didn’t see a lot of my family. The odd weekend, Christmas, that sort of thing. So by the time my mother died, Tessa and I really didn’t have a lot in common. I barely recognised her, to be honest. Hadn’t seen her in a few years as she’d been away at college any time I came back to Dumfries, then moved out altogether after that. At the funeral, I was in my late thirties with two children and a job teaching at a local primary school, while she was this rather bohemian young creature from a completely different world. We just didn’t find much to say to each other, and after that, with both my mum and dad gone, we lost touch.’
‘And neither of you made an attempt to get in contact before now? A letter, a phone call, a Christmas card? Facebook?’ Jasmine added, then wished she hadn’t, given Mrs Petrie’s expression. It was an ill-judged note of levity, prompted by a desire not to sound too accusatory, but the joke fell flat and the note of accusation had clearly been struck.
‘You’re young,’ she stated, not retaliatory, just matter-of-fact, even accompanied by a dry chuckle. ‘Right now you probably think six months ago was another era. You’ll be amazed how fast time passes as you get older. And the things you mean to do, the things you know you ought to do, it becomes so much harder to do them the longer you leave it. Plus you always think you’ll have time.’
Which, Jasmine knew, obviated the need for her to ask ‘why now?’.
Mrs Petrie had been sipping politely at her tea, but now she pushed it away with a grimace, as though it had turned cold.
‘I don’t have time,’ she said, working very hard to keep her voice steady. ‘Do you understand?’
‘My mother died of pancreatic cancer. It was very late-presenting. Months. I’m hoping for a little longer than that. It’s my colon. I could have three years, five, seven. I could live longer than you, for all we both know, but even at my age you never accept life is finite until you get something like this. It changes everything, when you no longer have forever. Once the doctor has shown you your best-before date, the world never looks the same. Drastic change in priorities, in what’s important. In whatmatters. Family matters. Nothing matters more.’
Mrs Petrie began filling up.
‘Years I’ve wasted,’ she went on. ‘Thinking my own wee world was complete. Thinking she ought to be the one to get in touch: I’ve never moved house. Decades. She could have kids of her own, kids I’ve never met.’
Now she broke down, the composure of her neatly made-up face cracking in a contortion of grief.
Jasmine got up from her chair and moved around the desk, tissues proffered in her fingers.
Mrs Petrie waved her away, cradling her head in her right hand but holding up her left, her index finger aloft. A teacher’s gesture.
‘I’ll be okay. I just need a moment.’
Mrs Petrie produced a hanky of her own and dabbed delicately at her nose and eyes. True enough, in a short while she was composed enough to speak steadily once again.
‘I realise there’s a possibility that I’m starting this too late,’ she admitted, before betraying that she wasn’treallyadmitting it. ‘But I have to assume that if she’d died, then I’d have heard. We drifted apart, but it’s not like we had some feud that meant I’d be barred from her funeral. Someone would have been in touch.’
Not necessarily, Jasmine thought but didn’t say. Instead she moved Mrs Petrie on to practical matters, the ‘can do’ part. She wasn’t in the business of selling false hope, but she understood that in these cases all hope was sacrosanct until it was gone.
‘The more you can tell me about her, the more I’ll have to work with. What was the last address you had for her?’
‘I’m sorry. That’s long gone from the memory. I very much doubt I’d have it written down anywhere after all this time.’
‘That’s okay. I really just want to know where she went after she left home.’
‘Glasgow,’ Mrs Petrie replied. ‘That’s why I came here to hire somebody. That and …’
She looked sheepish, clearly feeling a little stupid and slightly embarrassed by this, which was far more self-conscious than most of Jasmine’s previous clients.
‘That and the fact that I’d read about you. Well, rather, a friend of mine did. When I mentioned I was thinking of hiring an investigator she told me about what you’d done.’
‘Cornwall is a long way to travel on spec. You could have rung ahead.’
‘Oh no, it’s not like that. I’m staying here for a few days. My son lives in Paisley. I was visiting my friend there at the weekend. I think the cowardly part of me was hoping you wouldn’t be in, so that I could dismiss the idea, but now that I’m here I realise I should have done this years ago, done everything in my power.’
‘Well, you’re here now,’ Jasmine said, trying to head off any further self-recrimination. ‘And you were telling me Tessa was living in Glasgow.’
‘Yes. She went to college there, and stayed on when she got a job.’
‘What did she do for a living?’
‘She was an actress.’
Jasmine skipped a beat, hoping her moment of mild gaping passed unnoticed. It was a daft reflex she couldn’t quite shake. Whenever she heard about someone being an actress, she felt this unsettling mix of envy and curiosity: what kind of work, how did she get there, where did she train?
Mrs Petrie could have read her thoughts.
‘She studied drama in Glasgow, at the SATD. Sorry, that’s the Scottish Academy of Theatre and Dance,’ she explained, assuming Jasmine would never have heard of it. ‘Then, after that, she got a job in the Pantechnicon. I remember when my mother told me, I thought she meant a part, but it turned out the theatre was something called a rep, which means they put on several plays a year and so the same people act in each show.’
Jasmine said nothing, nodding politely as Mrs Petrie so helpfully explained the practice of a repertory company.
Straight out of the academy and into a job in rep. It was a dream as common as it was unlikely, such that a friend from the Academy once referred to harbouring such a fantasy as being like masturbation: nobody would admit to it, but everybody did it. It was so improbable as to be a joke, yet for this Tessa Garrion it had apparently been a reality; not just any old rep either, but the Pantechnicon, which begged a number of questions, most of them deeply unworthy.
Catch a grip, girl, Jasmine warned herself. Here she was, impugning the three-decades-past sexual integrity of an actress she’d never even heard of just because she’d got a part in a company. It told her that, for all she was starting to settle into her new career, she still wasn’t quite ready to admit to herself that she’d given up on her first choice. It happened every so often, something that would precipitate a glimpse of her old dreams, enough both to keep the flame burning and to torture her a little over whether she was making the right choice by sticking with Sharp Investigations.
Most recently, the cause had been a chance meeting with Charlotte Queen, whom she bumped into in the Tron Theatre bar when they were both there to see a revival ofSwing Hammer Swing!Jasmine had feared it would be an uncomfortable encounter: that at best Charlotte would make play of ignoring her, or that she would be subject to much faux-polite sneering with regard to their respective career trajectories. The last time their paths had crossed, just before Jim disappeared, Jasmine was eyeball on a foot-follow of a surveillance subject when she passed Charlotte having coffee at a pavement table outside a West End café. Even though they had seen each other and Charlotte called out to her by name, Jasmine could neither stop nor take her eyes off the subject. Effectively, she had completely rubbered the notoriously egotistical Ms Queen in front of her friends. It had come as no surprise when Charlotte never got back in touch about that mooted production ofThe Tempest.
Instead, Charlotte had been all over her in the bar: hugs and kisses and oh-my-Gods.
‘I read all about you in the papers. God, how amazingly exciting. I mean, dangerous, of course, sure, you must be so brave. I couldn’tbelieve it, though. I was, like,sotelling everybody I knew you. And then I remembered I saw you one time and you walked right past and I thought you maybe had headphones on or were in a daydream, but I realised you must have been actually tailing somebody, like in a film. I mean, wow. That is so cool.’
‘I was on a foot-follow,’ Jasmine was relieved to be able to explain at last.
‘God, that is so amazing. It’s, like, being in character, except you’re really, reallydeeplyin character. That’s major.’
‘Not really,’ Jasmine corrected, but only by way of taking the opportunity to tell Charlotte about the aspects of the job that truly did require acting. She had surely never sounded so enthusiastic about her job, but she couldn’t help it. Charlotte was lapping it up, and Jasmine was basking in the light of her enthusiasm. Impressing Charlotte was like a drug: you just wanted more and more and more. It was why she got so much out of people, on stage and off.
‘So you’re, like, a real detective?’
Jasmine could hear those commas, but knew that if she edited them out it would still be an unearned accolade.Likea real detective? No. Not even close.
As it turned out, Charlotte’s production ofThe Tempestwasn’t going to happen anyway. She had dropped the idea in favour of a revival of Liz Lochead’s Scots-dialect translation ofTartuffeby Molière, having heard through the grapevine that the Scottish government were planning a series of events aimed at both celebrating and cementing artistic ties with France. In her ability to combine vision, ambition, networking and sheer opportunism, it showed just why Charlotte had come a long way in a short time and was destined to go a great deal further. The play was scheduled to run both in Edinburgh and Paris, under the imprimatur of the Scottish government and therefore financially assisted by Arts Council Scotland.
This had predictably rankled with a lot of people; more so than even the usual grumbling that followed the awarding of grants to anybody other than oneself. Fire Curtain was perceived to be well down the list of companies in need of public funding: it was believedthat, as the daughter of Hamish Queen, Charlotte had been the beneficiary of more hand-outs and hand-ups than anybody else in Scottish theatre.
The roots of this resentment lay in artistic snobbery as much as financial jealousy. Hamish Queen had made millions putting on big, flashy musicals in London’s West End. To a certain constituency, it wasn’t ‘proper’ theatre, just ultra-commercial flummery aimed at fleecing tourists and philistines, so it stung all the more that his money and influence were facilitating his daughter’s rise to prominence – ignoring, of course, the fact that Charlotte was very much about putting on ‘proper’ theatre.
‘I’d still love to work with you some time,’ she told Jasmine in the Tron bar. ‘I think if the part was right, with your real-life experience, it would be electric.’
If the part was right. A hypothetical among hypotheticals, a throwaway remark, one fleeting thought amid millions that must pass through a capricious mind such as Charlotte’s, always looking for the next idea. But to Jasmine, it was enough to tantalise and to torment, keeping that door open just enough to let in a chink of light that kept distracting her from the here and now.
‘Tessa was a born performer,’ Mrs Petrie went on. ‘I don’t think she was out of nappies before she’d learned that she could get attention from Mum and Dad by putting on a show. She was a prodigious mimic. She would impersonate the voices she heard on the radio, and of course that would get the praise raining down upon her about how clever she was. I don’t mean that it made her conceited, because she wasn’t. Precocious, certainly, but not self-centred. I just mean that she took a lot of encouragement from it. A lot of confidence. She wasn’t egotistical, but she knew what she was worth, so it didn’t surprise me when I learned she was actually on the stage.’
‘And when she was at the Pantechnicon,’ Jasmine said. ‘What years would she have been there? What did you see her in?’
At this, Mrs Petrie’s face darkened somewhat. Jasmine feared she had said the wrong thing, but she soon saw that it was more self-reproach.
‘I never saw her on stage,’ she confessed, and clearly a confession it was.
‘Well, of course, if you were down in Cornwall …’ Jasmine suggested.
‘That didn’t make it easy, true, but I should have made the effort. To be honest, I didn’t want to.’
Mrs Petrie swallowed and her mouth went thin, pinched.
‘I was jealous.’
‘You wanted to be an actress too?’ Jasmine asked, hoping she wasn’t being granted a glimpse of herself fifty years into the future, eaten away by bitterness and regret.
‘No. It would never even have occurred to me. But that’s the point. I could just imagine my parents’ faces if I’d said I wanted to be an actress. The same way they instilled in Tessa a confidence that she could do anything and the desire to spread her wings, they instilled in me a sense of responsibility and a need to keep my feet on the ground. If by some whim I had decided that I wanted to be an actress, or a dancer, or whatever, I’d simply never have had the confidence, the nerve, to go out there and try.
‘Tessa did, though. She was all passion and impulse. She didn’t look before she leapt, and I used to think she’d end up in trouble because what if something goes wrong? I forgot to ask myself: what if it goes right? Tessa didn’t let worrying about what might go wrong hold her back, and I think that’s what I was jealous of most. I felt I had lived a life of cause and effect, of always being mindful of consequences.’
‘I’m informed it’s a common complaint of the oldest child in most families,’ Jasmine told her. ‘They need to be the responsible one, while their wee brothers and sisters get to have their heads in the clouds.’
‘That’s as may be, but it doesn’t make it any easier to sit here knowing I never saw Tessa act, and now I never will.’
She began choking up again, her voice failing her.
‘You don’t know that,’ Jasmine stated, going for matter-of-fact rather than consolatory, as though reining in self-pity. She realisedit sounded a little harsh, so followed it up with something a little more ameliorative. ‘She could be in some wee provincial rep in British Columbia for all we know.’
Mrs Petrie had staunched her tears, but she was shaking her head with grave certainty.
‘No. She gave up the stage a long time ago.’
‘How do you know?’
‘When I decided I should try to find Tessa, one of the first things I thought to do was to contact Equity. I spoke to a very helpful man there who checked into the archives for me. He could only access files going back twenty-five years, but he had no record of her in all that time. He told me her membership must have lapsed prior to 1986.’
Mrs Petrie sighed reflectively, as though trying to see a good side to this.
‘I suppose it’s possible she met some rich admirer who saw her on stage and whisked her away to a life of luxury,’ she said, not sounding like she believed it. ‘To be honest, I’m not sure that any amount of luxury would have made Tessa quit the stage, but I can’t think of any other reason why she would give up on what had been her dream for so long. Can you?’
‘No,’ lied Jasmine, who could think of one or two.
Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod didn’t think her husband would have made much of a criminal, or a card player for that matter. All it had taken was for her to make her overture – not even to broach the subject – and he was already wearing his ‘Oh God, do we have to?’ face.
It was generally one of the things she loved about him: that what you saw was what you got. He had the emotional honesty of a Labrador puppy and a reluctance to put on masks out of deference or decorum. It once amused her to observe that the only thing that could be more out of place than Drew in a Merchant Ivory movie or a Henry James novel would be a spaceship. On the downside, this boyish openness could make him seem terribly vulnerable and cause Catherine to feel every one of the nine years between them, and a good few more besides.
The look he wore now suggested he was afraid of being scolded. She already knew that she would get her way, but also that the outcome was not the most important aspect of the discussion. Actually having it would be more of a result.
She had chosen her moment carefully: not just bringing it up when he was trying to watch the Wimbledon highlights earlier, or the moment she was in the door from work, but during a late dinner, with both the boys long since tucked up in bed.
‘I need to talk to you about something,’ she had said.
That wasn’t when he made the face, but it had probably put him on alert.
‘It’s about Duncan, and that money we gave him for his report card.’
Duncan was the older of their two sons, his brother Fraser two years his junior. Duncan’s interim report back in November had indicated he was falling behind in maths; his teacher suggested he wasn’t paying as much attention as he should, perhaps because he was finding the subject a struggle. Mindful of this becoming a vicious circle, Duncan had been encouraged by his parents to do a little extra maths at home until he was more comfortable with the day-to-day classwork and therefore better able to keep pace. It had been a grind at first, for child and parents alike, but all three of them had stuck it out. It had borne results, with his teacher singling out his improvement for special comment ahead of parents’ evening.
In order to reward this they had given Duncan money to spend on ‘something for the summer holidays’, having listened to him prattle on with promiscuously fickle enthusiasm about everything from goalie gloves to NERF guns.
(Fraser got money for his report too, following a philosophical discussion around the breakfast table over whether his consistent high standards should merit any less recognition than Duncan’s fall and recovery. No firm consensus was agreed, but Duncan was privately given twenty pounds more than Fraser on the understanding that he kept the information to himself.)
‘Has he blown it all on hookers and ice-lollies?’ Drew asked, trying, and perhaps just hoping, to keep the tone light.
‘He wants to buy a new game for his Xbox.’
Drew had rolled his eyes, but that wasn’t when he got the look. He laughed a little.
‘I’ll have a word,’ he said. ‘Remind him about all the stuff he was planning to do when he couldn’t get outside for the rain. Mind you, this does mean I’ve officially turned into my mum. I remember her wanting to shunt me outdoors all the time during the summer holidays when all I wanted was to watch videos and play computer games. I could never understand why she did it, but now I’m a parent I’m exactly the same.’
‘I’ve already tried. He said he would still be outdoors plenty, but reminded me that we had said he could spend the money on whatever he liked.’
‘Apart from hookers, obviously. It’s true, though. We did say it was his money, and choosing what to spend it on was part of the reward.We can’t really go back on that. To be fair, it’ll probably rain all summer anyway.’
‘I agree. It’s not buying another computer game that’s the issue. The problem is, the game he wants isTrail of the Sniper. It’s got a fifteen certificate, but he says all his friends have got it.’
That was when Drew made the face.
Drew worked for a games development firm, so was several times bitten and consequently very shy of finding himself being held accountable for the evils and excesses of the entire industry, but this was only part of the reason for his wincing expression.
‘He’s starting Primary Five,’ she added. ‘He’s ten, and as far as I can ascertain this game revolves entirely around shooting people in the head with graphically realistic consequences.’
Drew let out a very quiet sigh, one he was perhaps hoping she wouldn’t hear.
‘If it’s a fifteen, then he can’t have it,’ he said. ‘He’ll just have to accept that. His pals are probably lying anyway.’
‘So you’ll tell him?’ she asked. ‘It’s just, you let him have that wrestling game that’s a fifteen.’
‘Yeah, but on those WWE games the certificate is actually an upper limit on who should be playing it,’ he replied with a smile. Catherine wasn’t in the mood for joking.
‘I’m just saying, he’s got his heart set on this and I don’t want it to always be me that gets painted as the killjoy.’
‘That’s fair enough,’ he said. ‘It should come from me. He’ll not be happy, but the fact that I did let him play the wrestling game should mean he understands this isn’t capricious. I’ll explain to him that there’s content that’s inappropriate. It’s a fifteen and he’s ten.’
And there it was, the moment Catherine had predicted. Drew was ostensibly agreeing with her, but in reality he was merely acquiescing. She could tell from his choice of words: he sounded like he was quoting rather than thinking out loud, and his rationale that ‘it’s a fifteen and he’s ten’ was in complete contrast to his previously stated opinions about each child’s comprehension and maturity being too complex and individual to categorise by age bands. He was agreeing with her to keep the peace, in the short term possibly because itmight improve his chances of the evening ending with a shag, and in the long term because … well, that was complex.
For one thing, Drew was sensitive about ever being considered irresponsible as a father, primarily because he was a lot younger than her, but partly also because he worked in an industry largely built on exploiting the more emotionally retarded aspects of the male psyche.
Catherine, in turn, was sensitive about being the one who always said no, who was risk-averse, disapproving, a killjoy.
The bad cop.
She didn’t like to admit it to herself, but sometimes Catherine suspected Drew was a little scared of her. It could allow her to get her own way, as in this case, but prevailing because her husband was too cowed to stand up to her was a long way from what she wanted.
She knew she was on shaky ground complaining that Drew didn’t want to discuss how he really felt about something, as he had frequent cause to lament how there was so much that his wife wouldn’t reveal about herself. Partly it was derived from determination not to bring the job home; her resolve that her family should not live under a shadow of gloom cast by a wife and mother who often spent her working hours mired in the detritus of the worst things that human beings could do to one another. But Drew’s complaint was not born of ingratitude at being spared regular, vivid and graphic insights into her caseload. It was something more, something other, something she wouldn’t, couldn’t share.
‘There’s this dark place you go,’ he once put it. ‘You’re angry on the road to that place and you’re unreachable when you get there. But what’s hardest is you’re numb for days afterwards.’
Drew refilled her wine glass and topped up his own. She could tell he was trying to think of something else to talk about: something light, that would indicate the previous matter was closed and there were no lingering issues about it, which only served to underline how the opposite was true.
They had to be adults about this. She wanted to know how he really felt, and why.
‘You disagree, though, don’t you,’ she said. ‘You don’t have topretend, Drew. In fact, you can’t, not to me. There’s very few can lie to me across a short table and get away with it. If it was up to you, you’d let him play it, wouldn’t you?’
Drew looked flustered and defensive, and not a little put-upon, like he was resentful at receiving precisely the scolding he had feared.
‘I haven’t seen the game in question, so I couldn’t say.’
‘Yes, but in general you don’t think playing these games is inappropriate for Duncan. You just go along with me because you know I don’t like them.’
‘That’s not fair,’ he replied. ‘There are plenty of games I wouldn’t want the boys seeing, let alone playing. I’ve never shown them anything from ourHostileseries, despite the added curiosity of them being the games Daddy makes.’
‘But you let them play other violent games, not just the wrestling one. Even Fraser gets to play thatSerious Samthing.’
Fraser was the factor that upped the stakes for Catherine on this issue, because she knew that any game Duncan got, he would be watching over his shoulder and asking for a shot. She knew it was not fair on Duncan that everything he played or watched should be acceptable for his wee brother, at an age when two years of maturity was practically a generation. But equally she didn’t want Fraser growing up too fast, and certainly didn’t want him exposed to anything so disturbing that it had been given a fifteen certificate.
‘It’s set so that the monsters spray flowers instead of blood when you shoot them. It’s the equivalent of shooting wooden ducks at the fairground.’
‘But don’t you think the violence itself is the issue?’
Drew sighed more loudly this time, looking all the more like he didn’t want to get into this, because he was aware it was a fight he couldn’t win.
‘I just think that clicking on a cursor is a long way distant from pulling a trigger. Nobody’s worried aboutGran Turismomaking people go out and drive their cars at a hundred and fifty miles an hour, orSimCitymaking people want to be town planners.’
‘But those are representations of racing, or managing resources and designing landscapes. ThisTrail of the Snipergame is aboutshooting people in the head, Drew. All these games are about shooting people. I don’t want my sons getting desensitised to the idea of that.’
‘That’s your prerogative as their mother, and that’s why I’m content to back you up all the way. I’ll tell Duncan he’s not on, and I’ll make it plain that it’s my judgment, not yours. I’m not arguing with you about this.’
‘But you don’t agree,’ she re-stated, not quite sure why this bothered her so much.
For some reason, Catherine had always assumed she’d have girls. There was no rationale behind this, just the vision she had always enjoyed of being a mother. Instead, she had got two boys, and was frequently dismayed by the insights they provided into their gender.
She had nonetheless been of the opinion that boys didn’t have to turn out to be feral, hyper-masculine monsters obsessed with the brutal and the disgusting. To that end, theirs was a house that didn’t tolerate violence, raised voices or displays of excessive temper. Duncan and Fraser’s gender role models were progressive, enlightened and far from conventional. Their dad was home more than their mum and did more than his share of the cooking, shopping and other domestic chores; their mum was a police officer, out fighting crime and catching bad guys. Yet none of this had prevented them becoming, well, feral, hyper-masculine monsters obsessed with the brutal and the disgusting. Something in them sought out the horrible, no matter how much you tried to guide them otherwise. They really were made of frogs and snails and puppy-dog tails, and Catherine worried constantly about what was in their heads, and about what mightgetin their heads.
‘I agree partly. I just don’t feel so strongly about it. It clearly means more to you that the boys shouldn’t play certain games than it does to me, so I’m happy to go along with that. It’s no biggy.’
‘But I don’t want you just to go along with it. I want you to see what I see here. I want you to understand what’s wrong with the idea of our children learning to kill via a simulator.’
Drew reeled a little at this, and she thought for a moment she had really struck a telling blow, one that truly altered his perspective. He took a moment then sighed again, which informed her that this was not in fact the case.
‘With respect, Cath,’ he began, then paused, considering and perhaps carefully revising what he was going to say. ‘You’re a long way off your patch here. I don’t want to fight about this, but what I will say is that, in my experience, people who disapprove of violent video games have usually never played one.’
Catherine felt the surge of quite disproportionate anger that came whenever she sensed somebody was trying to put her in her place. So when her mobile rang, interrupting a post-prandial conversation for the several hundredth time in their marriage, it was probably a mercy upon both of them.
‘I have to take this,’ she said, given the name that was flashing on her screen.
Drew gave a resigned and slightly huffy shrug.
He was generally very tolerant and understanding of these interruptions, acknowledging that he had long since accepted they were part of the package that came with Catherine, but on occasion the timing could test his patience to the limit. This was one of those times, largely because she could tell he was already a little pissed off at her for the evening not going how he’d hoped.
Catherine, for her part, was usually just as frustrated and resentful when the calls came out of hours, but in this instance some spiteful part of her welcomed it, perhaps because she didn’t have a come-back for Drew’s last gambit.
It was Sunderland, the Almighty: calling when she was, nominally at least, off duty. This usually meant he was handing her a whole bundle of grief, the true extent and ungodly nature of which would only reveal itself over time.
‘There’s been a shooting in Cragruthes, up near Alnabruich,’ Sunderland told her, his voice weary with portent. She could tell there was a fire starting to catch and he wanted her to douse it before somebody got very badly burned. ‘I need you up there first thing in the morning to take charge.’
Alnabruich, though: that was up in the Highlands, so she didn’t get the angle. Was it related to something else she was working on?
‘And DI McSheepshagger of Highland can’t deal with this because …?’ she inquired.
‘Because it’s not on his manor. Alnabruich is a long way from Govan, but it’s still Strathclyde’s patch. It’s Argyllshire.’
Bugger, she thought.
‘What’s the script?’ she asked. ‘Murder?’
‘Fatal shooting is the line at this stage. Took half his face off. Possibility that it was accidental still to be ruled out.’
This wasn’t exactly blowing her skirt up so far. A shooting in the back of beyond that might not even be a murder wasn’t the kind of thing you gave to a copper of her rank, especially not when she was off duty.
‘Okay, all very unfortunate, but you want to tell me why you’re punting it to me?’
‘Because the shooting took place in the grounds of Cragruthes Castle, and the vic was standing two feet from Sir Angus McCready, the laird of Ruthes, when it happened.’
‘Ah,’ she replied as all became clear. Everyone was equal in the eyes of the law, and the police treated everybody the same. Apart from the people they treated completely different. ‘So we’re talking major media scrutiny, political interference, connected individuals stomping their footprints all over our investigation, your maxi-zoom deluxe nightmare?’
Sunderland chuckled darkly.
‘Oh, you don’t know the half, McLeod. I haven’t told you who the victim is yet.’
A few minutes later Catherine disconnected the call, then walked to the sink and poured her wine away.
‘I’ll have to call it a night,’ she announced. ‘I’m looking at an early start in the morning and I’ll need a clear head.’
‘Why? What’s so importantthistime?’ Drew asked, not attempting to hide his resentment at how the evening had panned out, and inadvertently inviting a knockout blow.
‘Because somebody’s been shot in the head. Inreal life, Drew. Here in real life.’Bad Debts
Jasmine had already decided that Mrs Petrie’s inquiry might not prove such easy money even before anything started to go awry.
This sort of case was normally a matter of making a few phone calls and setting certain processes in motion, then profitably getting on with other jobs while she waited for the information to start coming in. Out of sight, out of mind. The biggest source of angst and self-examination was usually over what she considered fair to charge, considering it generally didn’t gobble up a lot of man hours.
She wasn’t sure whether time spent lying awake thinking about the case was billable, but that hadn’t been a consideration until now.
If there was a checklist for this genus of client, Mrs Petrie would have ticked most of the boxes, right down to the abruptly altered perspective upon mortality having precipitated a need to forgive and not forget. There was one anomaly, however, and it was major. The subject would be fifty-three years old, which was at least two decades younger than anybody Jasmine had been asked to look for since re-opening Sharp Investigations. It changed the game entirely when there was a far greater possibility that the person being sought might actually be alive.
Tessa Garrion had been in her head all day and a blearily uncomfortable portion of the night. It had pushed a few buttons to learn that she had been an actress, but not as many as learning that she had suddenlyceasedto be an actress some time in her mid-twenties, despite a promising career ahead of her. This bothered Jasmine because she could have been talking about her mother.
Mum had seldom talked about her brief acting career, except in the most oblique terms, as though afraid of leaving behind any clues Jasmine might follow that could unlock the secrets of her past. Jasmine had grown up without a father, and been told that he had died betweenher mum falling pregnant and Jasmine’s birth. Mum never told her anything else about him. From an early age she understood it to be a closed subject and learned not to ask. She got the sense that her mother’s reticence was as much about protecting Jasmine as it was about her reluctance to revisit certain memories and thought that, one day, when she had proven that she was all grown up and demonstrably stable of mind and body, she might encourage Mum to reveal just a little.
What little she did know she picked up largely from chat between Mum’s friends and relatives. Their words were guarded, even when they didn’t know Jasmine was in earshot, as though they were as wary of being caught in such discussions by Beth Sharp as being overheard by her daughter. Through these disparate fragments she learned that Mum had been brought up in a violent area of Glasgow and had made some dangerous friends by way of a desperate survival strategy. It wasn’t a matter of falling in with a bad crowd and being led astray, as it seemed she had been as single-minded and passionate about her vocation as Jasmine would be years later. Rather it was that when her career should have allowed her to move on and move up, she couldn’t extricate herself from certain entanglements of her past. The greatest of those entanglements, Jasmine had to assume, must have been her father.
She knew nothing about him. The only descriptions she had were individual words, scattered like snowflakes over the years, leaving merely a blurred outline of where this man had been. What was unmistakable was that it was not the outline of a good person.
Dangerous. Brutal. Ruthless. Terrifying.
And, of course, deceased.
Jasmine never heard any details, only allusions to living by the sword and dying by the sword.
She knew that, following his death but before Jasmine’s birth, her mum had moved to Edinburgh to start again, to create a new life away from the influences of the people she had become involved with. It was only forty miles along the M8, but apparently that was far enough. These were people who didn’t see a broad horizon and wonder what was beyond it. They were busy inside their own littlegoldfish bowl and Mum knew that she and her daughter would be safe enough as long as they remained outside it. That was why Mum seldom went back to Glasgow, not if there was something she wanted to see at one of its theatres and not even to visit Jasmine at her student digs. It was as though she was afraid even a chance encounter might be enough to corrupt her new life.
She gave up her acting career to raise Jasmine, working initially with a theatre-in-the-community group until qualifying as a drama teacher. Jasmine knew she had left a job with a rep company based in Glasgow, but it was only recently that she had given much thought to the sacrifice her mum had made and considered how she had given up just as many dreams as her daughter. When she was growing up, Jasmine had heard how her mother used to be an actress, but it meant nothing to a child: Mum was just Mum, a drama teacher who had friends in theatre.
It was only since making the leap to take on Sharp Investigations and accepting that she was slowly closing the door on acting that Jasmine had begun to appreciate how her mum had gone through the same thing before her. Worse, in fact, because unlike Jasmine her mum had been walking the walk, doing it for real, not merely training in hope. Did she keep the guttering flame alight for a few years, telling herself a second chance might come once her daughter was off to school, perhaps? Did it hurt a little every time she went to the theatre, seeing the art she used to practise and the life she could have had? Did it hurt especially on that unforgettable night backstage at the Lyceum? Was the same perspective that brought forth Jasmine’s epiphany for her merely a cruel reminder of all she had lost?
If so, she was indeed one hell of an actress, because she had covered it up all Jasmine’s life. She never spoke of regrets, never gave Jasmine the impression she was off roaming in the realms of what if. Presumably, one of the possible answers to what if had been made vividly apparent and she was very grateful for what she had now. Her life as an actress was inextricable from a life in the orbit of dangerous, violent people, one of whom had been Jasmine’s father. Knowing this, Jasmine guessed, difficult as it was, her mother would make the same choice every time.
But there are always other what ifs, and sometimes hidden layers of complexity within the first.
When her mum was suddenly forced to confront her own mortality, she had done the same thing as Mrs Petrie and so many others before her: she had gone to a private investigator to find someone she wanted to talk to, one last time, before it was too late. And unlike all the clients Jasmine had worked for, her mother had gotten her wish.
Jasmine, however, had known nothing about this.
Then, in the course of the hunt for her missing uncle, Jasmine had come across the name Glen Fallan in Jim’s files.
She heard him described by a senior police officer.
Dangerous. Brutal. Ruthless. Terrifying.
These all applied, but there were others too. Torturer. Debt-collector. Enforcer. Hit-man.
‘Ice-cold killer,’ the policeman had told her. ‘And when I say that, I mean like the ice doesn’t feel anything when it freezes you to death.’
Despite being thus forewarned, Fallan’s name was the only clue Jasmine had to go on at that stage, so she located and confronted him. He was indeed dangerous, brutal, ruthless and terrifying. He also saved her life – twice – and put himself to considerable pains in order to help her get to the bottom of Jim’s disappearance. Nothing she witnessed of him suggested the cop’s descriptions were exactly libellous, but they didn’t show the whole picture either. For one thing, he was a lot less dead than the police believed him to be.
Following Jim’s funeral, Jasmine learned that despite Fallan reputedly having died two decades back, her mother had requested that her cousin track him down. Jim had done so successfully, and Fallan had subsequently visited Mum shortly before her death.
Jasmine then discovered that Fallan had been sending money to her mother, every three or four months for twenty years. It wasn’t a fiver a time, either. Looking back, it explained how they had got by at certain times, at ages when Jasmine was oblivious of all financial considerations. Even when she was a student it would never have occurred to her to try to balance the books in terms of what a drama teacher earned and how much she was able to give Jasmine to help with her rent and other expenses.
All her life this man, Glen Fallan, had been secretly, invisibly supporting her.
She confronted him once more, driving down to Northumberland to the women’s refuge where he served as a volunteer: gardener, handyman, courier, bodyguard. He was working in the grounds of the house, wielding a leaf-blower in one hand like it was a dust-buster. When he saw her approach there was warmth in his face but he didn’t smile. It was as though he was pleased to see her but not glad that she was there, because he had already deduced why.
There was a fresh breeze blowing and he was wearing only a sleeveless top above his camo trousers, but she could feel heat coming from him as he stood a few feet away, the smell of the outdoors, fresh sweat and recent ablutions in her nose. His presence was almost overwhelming. He made her feel so small, so weak by comparison.
She thought her voice would fail her and part of her wanted to turn and run, but she couldn’t run from this. It had already found her. She knew she had no choice but to find it in herself to speak the most difficult four words of her life, a question she only had the strength to ask because she was already certain of the answer.
‘Are you my father?’
She recalled that she ceased to feel the breeze, that though they were outdoors in the rolling grounds of that spooky big house she could have been in a stark white room or a bare stage, nothing else in the world but her and this man.
He looked at her with a sadness born of pity and regret, though she remained unsure who it was for.
‘I always feared that one day I’d have to answer this question,’ he said. ‘I thought I’d got away with it. Your mum told me to stop the payments once she had gone. Safe to say she didn’t want us to meet. I guess fate took a few decisions for us.’
He looked away towards the hills, pained, but not as much as she was. Then he turned to her again, that mix of sadness and concern all the more pronounced.
‘I’m not your father, Jasmine,’ he said, his normally steady voice faltering like the words were ashes in his mouth. ‘I’m sorry. Nothing here is as it seems.’
The problem with only asking a question because you’re certain of the answer is that you are blown wide open when that answer is not the one you receive. Jasmine felt like she had been beamed off the planet momentarily, then teleported back to a replica world that looked the same but was strangely, minutely different. She remembered being acutely aware of her surroundings once again, of the wind about her ears, the leaves that were blowing around, more green than brown, the first falls of autumn. It was no longer a white room, an empty stage. She was still standing with this man but he was somebody else, not the man she thought he was, and she felt so very lonely.
‘You’re lying,’ she protested. ‘Why are you lying? Some old promise to my mum? She’s not here any more. I’ve got nobody and I need to know the truth.’
‘That is the truth.’
‘How can it be? Why would you be sending money for twenty years? Why would she send Jim to find you?’
There were tears starting to run from the corners of her eyes. She was managing to keep her voice steady but there was a desperation to her tone, like she was starting to realise there would be an explanation she hadn’t anticipated, her blockbuster pieces of evidence crumbling in her hands.
Fallan looked solemnly into her eyes, pain etched deep in his own, pain for both of them.
‘Do you remember I once mentioned how, in some cultures, if you kill a man, as your penance you are made responsible for those he left behind?’
Jasmine spent a moment trying to place when he had said this; it was at a time when she had been a little too distracted to give his words her full attention, as they hadn’t really been aimed at her. This time they were, and as she discarded the memory of the old surveillance van where she first heard them, their true meaning came to the fore.
But even as she said the words she couldn’t accept them.
‘That’s why you kept sending the money? That doesn’t add up.This is Glasgow we’re talking about, not some remote valley in the Amazon. Why would you do that? And why would my mum want to see you before the end?’
Fallan took a breath, gathering his thoughts, choosing his words.
‘Your mum and I were very close. We were good friends in very bad times. We both knew what kind of a world we’d become mired in, and when she became pregnant it made it all the more stark that she had to get out. I wanted her to be able to escape, make a clean break, start a new life.’
‘So you killed the man she was involved with, my father?’
‘No, that’s not why I killed him. But his death made it easier for your mum to leave.’
‘That doesn’t answer why you would keep sending the money. She made that clean break, started up a new life in Edinburgh.’
‘It was the price of redemption. Or the price of believing in redemption. I needed to get out of that world too, but I couldn’t just physically leave without taking my past with me. I needed to pay for my sins. I needed to make amends, to help somebody in order to believe that I could be something better. It was important to me that something good came out of that time, and it did. The life you’ve had, compared to the lives you and your mum might have had … That’s why I kept sending the money.’
Jasmine could feel the tears streaming now. She didn’t know what to feel, what to think of Fallan. She just knew that it hurt.
Fallan reached into a pocket and offered her a tissue. Jasmine refused, wiping her eyes and her nose on her sleeve like a snottery little toddler. Then she swallowed, gathering her forces for a defiant charge.
‘What was his name?’
Fallan shook his head. She wanted to scream.
‘Please. What was his name?’
‘I can’t tell you. You were right: I did make certain promises to your mum. Two promises. She didn’t want you knowing about me: there’s nothing we can do about that now. But she seriously didn’t want you knowing about him, and that’s a promise Icankeep.’
‘You don’t have to tell me anything else. Just his name would be enough.’
‘His namewouldbe enough,’ he agreed. ‘That’s why I can’t tell you it. We both know you’ll do precisely what your mum was afraid of. You’ll try to find out who he was, and that would expose you to everything she spent her life protecting you from.’
‘Can’t you tell me anything? You can stay off specifics,’ she bargained. ‘Anything at all.’
‘There’s nothing I could tell you that would make you feel better.’
Fallan had a look about him that she had come to recognise: impermeable. This was not a man who could be prevailed upon. But she had spent enough time around him to recognise when he was being pulled apart. Maybe it was just desperation, but something inside her still wouldn’t accept that what he was saying was true.
‘I still don’t believe you. I believe you made only one promise to my mum: a promise never to tell me who my father was, because my father was you.’
Fallan looked away to the hills again, and when he looked back at Jasmine his face was etched once more with that mixture of pity and regret. He knew that what he had to say would hurt her, but he knew he had to say it.
‘Okay. I’ll tell you his name, just his first name, because that will be enough. That will make everything clear. His name was James.’
Jasmine stared back uncomprehendingly, wondering for a moment whether he was being facetious, to teach her a harsh lesson. James. What the hell would that make clear?
‘But James is not what anybody called him,’ Fallan went on. ‘He was known to your mum, as he was known to everybody else, as Jazz.’
It took her a moment, but then she heard it, and Fallan was right. It was enough. It rang true, devastatingly true.
‘She didn’t love him and she didn’t mourn him, but for whatever reason, she still named you for him.’Records
The next day, Jasmine didn’t get the opportunity to chase up any of her contacts as she was on the road for Galt Linklater: a possible insurance fraud up on the Black Isle. The request had come in at the last minute, another of their investigations having escalated in terms of manpower, leaving them short-handed. As the job was a good three hours’ drive from Glasgow it would require an overnight stay – and possibly two – up in Inverness. The upside of such trips was that they clocked up plenty of billable overtime, but the big variable was who she might be teamed with.
She had got to know most of Galt Linklater’s roster, enough to have composed a mental list of the best and worst men to be working with on any particular job. Some were friendlier than others, more patient, more tolerant, while there were those who scored poorly in the above categories but were nonetheless smart operators from whom she knew she could learn a lot.
Her great fear, the moment she told Harry Deacon she was available, was that he would then inform her she was going on this road trip with Johnny Gibson – known as Grumpy Gibby – the most miserable ex-cop in the world. Gibby was always friendly to Jasmine and scored high on patience and tolerance, never getting frustrated with her when she got into difficulties. The problem was that she was the only thing he didn’t complain about. He could moan for Scotland, but all of his minor grizzling was a mere support act to the main event, which was for him to go on about his divorce until you were toying with blowing the surveillance just so that you wouldn’t have to listen any more. It usually took him about half an hour to get on to the subject, then it was all divorce, all the time, we never close.
She lucked out, though. It transpired that she’d be with Rab Forrest, which indicated just how swamped Galt Linklater must be if oldRab was getting into a car with an overnight bag. One of the firm’s elder statesmen, he mostly worked on the management side under Harry, but wasn’t daunted by the prospect of a bit of field work when it was required. He wasn’t daunted by anything, in fact, because in his decades as a cop and a PI there really wasn’t much he hadn’t seen before.
He was easy company, with the added benefit that she didn’t have to worry so much about uncomfortably flirty behaviour from a man in his seventies. That was always a nagging concern whenever she pulled an overnighter. All of Galt Linklater’s investigators were old enough to be her father, but there was no accounting for how deluded some men could become, especially if you were being pleasant to them and they’d had a few drinks. So far there had been nothing inappropriate, but her mental list contained a subsection for the guys she’d least like to be sharing a hotel with. Rab Forrest, being old enough to be her grandfather, wasn’t in it.
They had an early start, requiring eyes on the subject’s house and car for seven o’clock. His name was Roddy Harris, a former joiner recently relocated from Perth, and it was the veracity of the ‘former’ part that they were there to establish. He was receiving income-protection payouts from an insurance firm, having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which had, he claimed, caused him to give up his work. Rab further informed Jasmine that Harris had sold up a four-bedroom house in Perth, he and his wife downsizing to a two-bedroom flat in Beauly now that their kids had grown up and left home.
As a self-employed joiner, he had taken out an income-protection policy with Steadfast Insurance twelve years back. This had followed a two-month lay-off from work due to a back injury, the resultant lack of income causing him to realise his vulnerability given that he had no employer to rely on for sick pay. His first claim on this policy was for something a bit more than a slipped disc, however. He was diagnosed with MS, which, among its other privations, at times could leave him incapable of gripping his tools. Unable to guarantee his ability to take on jobs, he was forced to close his business. Steadfast’s policy required that they pay him roughly thirty grand a year untilretirement age, which meant they were looking at a total dispensation of more than a quarter of a million pounds. However, the insurance firm had suspicions that Mr Harris was more capable than his diagnosis was making out, and hired Galt Linklater to gather evidence.
‘How do you get a fake diagnosis of MS?’ Jasmine asked Rab.
‘You don’t,’ was his stark answer.
They followed Harris from Beauly to Inverness, where they promisingly observed him going into B&Q. He emerged with some timber and a roll of chicken wire, which he put into the back of his Volvo estate.
He stopped off for some groceries at a supermarket, then headed back across the Kessock Bridge. However, instead of proceeding home to his flat in Beauly he stopped about a mile outside, at an isolated cottage in expansive but rather unkempt grounds.
They watched him take the timber and chicken wire from his car and approach the front door, which was answered by an elderly woman with white hair below a black headscarf. He disappeared inside the cottage, then emerged again a few minutes later, this time producing a toolbox and a saw from the rear of the Volvo.
On a hunch, Rab sent Jasmine out on foot, down a farm track that afforded a view of the land at the cottage’s rear. She took up position using the cover of a hedge and focused her video camera to capture Harris carrying out repairs on a chicken coop while the old woman hovered near by, and at one point brought him a cup of tea and a roll.
As she relayed quietly to Rab over the radio, it was painful to watch. Harris kept dropping his tools, dropping nails, dropping timber, and adopted a repertoire of awkward postures while sawing and hammering in order to compensate for his inability to grip properly. Crucially, however, he did ultimately get the job done, which pleased the old woman, but not as much as it would please Steadfast Insurance.
Jasmine kept her head down and her gait stooped as she made her way back along the farm track, but she felt that her posture could not be low enough to match her conduct. She got back in the car, then Rab drove a hundred yards back down the Inverness road and turned, pulling into a layby from where they could follow Harris upon his exit. Rab had mounted the video camera on thedashboard again, so that they could resume recording their pursuit of Harris’s car.
She watched him put his tools into the Volvo, followed by the rotted boards and rusted wire he’d replaced. Rab watched too, all the while talking on the phone to Harry Deacon, recounting what they’d just seen and recorded. She didn’t follow all of what was being said; hearing one side of a conversation could be hard enough to follow, but much of this exchange seemed to be conducted in an arcane code. Further confusing her was Rab’s reference to Harris’s moonlighting as ‘an arson job’.
Rab terminated the call just as Harris was making his final exit, wiping his hands on a rag. The old woman appeared again, hurrying from the front door like she was afraid he’d already left. They watched her present him with a bottle of whisky, then the familiar pantomime of refusal and insistence. Jasmine remembered her mum telling her there was a grace to receiving that was hard to learn, and the memory briefly delayed her realisation that Harris hadn’t been looking to be paid. He was just helping out some old crofter woman who needed her chicken coop repaired.
‘Aye,’ Rab said with a sigh. ‘Puts me in mind of a pal of mine who was doing a favour for his upstairs neighbour in a tenement close. Old woman’s pulley was jiggered, so she couldnae dry her washing. He went up and fixed it. I think the cord had snapped, so he replaced it. When he was finished he says tae her: “Right Mrs McGlumphur, you can get your clothes up noo.” The wee woman says: “Aw, son, if it’s all right with you, I was just gaunny give you a bottle of whisky.”’
Jasmine didn’t feel like laughing, though.
‘What’s up?’ Rab asked. ‘You not like that one?’
‘No, it’s …’
‘Never mind. You’ll like this.’
And with that he pressed rewind on the camera, cueing the tape back to before she got out of the car. He then resumed filming, recording over Jasmine’s footage.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked, though it was staringly self-evident. She hoped she managed to sound professionally shocked rather than personally delighted.
She must have done. He told her not to worry, assuring her he’d cleared it with Harry, and reiterated his curious reference of before.
‘How is it arson?’ she asked. ‘Are you going to tell Steadfast the tape got burnt?’
‘Naw, not arson. Arsène. As in Wenger. It means “I did not see ze incident”,’ he explained, putting on a cod French accent.
‘See, screwing chancers is our bread and butter. Some fly-man claiming compo for his gammy leg then going out and playing five-a-sides, I’ll nail him seven days a week. But sometimes these insurance firms can be like the world’s worst bookie. They’re happy enough to rake in money on long-odds bets, but they cannae accept that the laws of probability dictate that sometimes they’ll be unlucky. So they cry foul and look for any way they might be able to invalidate the claim: welshing on the bet.’
‘So we’re going to report that we saw nothing untoward?’
‘No, we’re going to report exactly what we witnessed: that Mr Harris is so debilitated by multiple sclerosis that he couldn’t possibly make a living as a joiner.’
‘Roger that,’ said Jasmine.
‘He who pays the piper calls the tune, but this isn’t a job without its moral choices. I did not see ze incident,’ he repeated. ‘And we didn’t have this conversation either, you understand?’
Jasmine got a call as they passed through Aviemore on the drive back down the A9. Her phone didn’t associate the number with any of her listed contacts, but Jasmine recognised it as the main switchboard at the tax office: outgoing calls from internal extensions weren’t identified. It was her contact, Polly Seaton, which meant progress on Mrs Petrie’s case. Polly had been in Jasmine’s class throughout secondary school, and now worked at Centre One in East Kilbride. Tax records were the most reliable means of tracing anybody, and though there were strict limits on what details Polly could divulge, it was usually enough.
She always felt a little guilty at how obliging Polly was, as theyhadn’t been bosom buddies or anything back in the day. Truth be told, she’d always found Polly a bit dull and literal-minded, so she felt a little hypocritical about coming across so friendly when it was really only a means of securing a favour. Jasmine didn’t feel comfortable using people and she kept telling herself she ought to take Polly out for a few drinks some night by way of gratitude, but thus far that sentiment was in the same pending tray as buying new office furniture, finding an accountant and acquiring a social life.
‘You’re in luck,’ Polly reported. ‘There’s only one Tessa Garrion on record, so no worries about whether I’ve retrieved files on the right person.’
This was always good to know. The experience of spending two days sifting through piles of information in order to find the right Jean Clark was still fresh in Jasmine’s memory.
‘I had to go back a long way, as you warned me. Got her P60 filings starting from October 1980: her payee was the Pan … technician Theatre. Does that sound right?’
Jasmine smiled at Polly’s misreading but considered it impolite to correct her.
‘That’s definitely her. She worked as an actress, but gave that up some time around the mid-eighties. I’m trying to find out what she did next.’
‘Early eighties, by the look of it. Her last wages from this Pantechnithingy Theatre were paid April 1981. After that, looks like she moved briefly into retail footwear. The Glass Shoe Company. She was only with them one month, though.’
‘And where did she go next?’
‘After that, I’ve got nothing. No further filings.’
‘So she moved away. Do you have a record of what district would have her tax records after that?’
‘No, I’m saying she had no tax records after that: not here, not anywhere. She didn’t pay tax after August 1981.’
Jasmine thanked Polly and hung up, realising as soon as she’d done so that she’d forgotten to suggest a drink. Then she accepted that maybe she hadn’t really forgotten.
There’s a grace to receiving, she remembered. She had to remind herself that people weren’t always playing an angle, only giving in order to get. There was a grace to not being a using cow as well, though.
‘You look a bit dischuffed,’ Rab observed. ‘Dead end?’
‘Missing person. Trying to follow her tax trail. Turns out it ends in 1981. Doesn’t sound like the first step towards a happy ending.’
‘Ah, but maybe it was,’ Rab countered. ‘Mr Right comes along and sweeps her off her feet. Lassie never has to work another day.’
‘Her sister did moot that possibility, but if she got married she never invited anybody to the wedding.’
‘Had they fallen out?’
‘More drifted apart.’
‘Aye,’ Rab considered, narrowing his eyes. ‘You’d get a card at least. And if there was no big melodramas you’d have to think she’d let her sister know if she had any weans. Could have been living over the brush with some fancy man, maybe somebody the family wouldn’t have approved of. You said she was an actress? Rich, older admirer. Rich,marriedadmirer?’
‘Plausible enough,’ she agreed. ‘But not easy to trace.’
Rab reached down and disconnected his mobile from the hands-free cradle, offering it to Jasmine.
‘Go into contacts and call Annabel Downie,’ he told her.
Jasmine complied and replaced the handset in its cradle as it began to ring. Switched to speaker, the tone pulsed loud inside the car for a few rings, before being answered by a female voice.
‘DC Downie,’ he addressed her. ‘You got five minutes?’
‘Only for you,’ she replied warmly.
‘Can you run a name through STORM for me, and give us a call back?’
‘No bother. Just grabbing a pen here. What’s the name?’
Her eyes on the road, it took Jasmine a moment to realise that the growing pause was awaiting her to fill it.
‘Oh. Tessa Garrion,’ she said.
‘Tessa—’ Rab began to relay.
‘Garrion. I’m on it. Call you right back.’
Rab hung up.
‘Thanks,’ Jasmine said. ‘What’s STORM?’
‘Systems for Tasking and Operational Resource Management. It’s a police database.’
‘So we’ll find her if she’s ever been in bother?’
‘No. We’ll find her if she’s had any dealings with the polis whatsoever. If she ever phoned the emergency services, or even handed in a dropped purse at the local nick, they’ll have her number and address at the time.’
Jasmine’s eyes widened. This might be easy money after all. She could have a result by the time they reached Kingussie.
Rab’s phone rang again shortly.
‘That’s a big zero, I’m afraid,’ DC Downie reported.
‘Nothing?’ Rab asked.
‘Absolutely nothing. Not so much as a call to complain about a car alarm going off.’
‘Ach well, worth a try. Thanks, Annabel.’
‘Any time, Dad.’
Rab gave Jasmine a warm wee smile, both proud and conspiratorial. It was an invitation for her to share a moment recognising the special bond between father and daughter. Rab having just tried to do her a favour, Jasmine considered it polite to fake it.
‘How accurate is STORM?’ she asked. ‘I mean, how far back?’
‘Last twenty years, everything is logged and backed up. If you gave a witness statement, gave your details to an officer after a wee car prang, it’s there. Before that, it’s a bit more sketchy, variable from force to force depending on what records they kept and what they got around to computerising.’
‘Twenty years, though. How many people go that long without paying any tax and having any recorded contact with the police?’
‘Well, it matches two kinds of profile,’ Rab suggested. ‘One being the extremely rich.’
‘And what’s the other?’
‘The extremely dead.’
Upon reflection, the possibilities weren’t quite as stark as Rab had painted them.
Jasmine considered that Tessa Garrion could have got married a few years down the line and felt sufficiently estranged from her sister by that time as to feel no need to inform her. If she took her husband’s surname she wouldn’t appear on the STORM system under her maiden name. In fact, she could have got married in July 1981 and not bothered telling anyone, because the two sisters might not have been on quite such neutral terms as Alice Petrie was making out.
She might also have gone overseas, though Jasmine wasn’t sure whether that would have been noted on her tax records. If she was domiciled elsewhere she wouldn’t be eligible to pay tax, but if she hadn’t been earning anything anyway, maybe that aspect of her status wouldn’t be updated.
The one thing Jasmine was still intrigued by, however, was the seemingly abrupt end to Tessa’s theatrical career. Did she get dropped? Depressingly plausible, but surely she wouldn’t give up just like that. Working in a shoe shop was also a plausible stop-gap, something she’d do to pay the bills while she was waiting for a part to come up elsewhere. The name Glass Shoe Company rang a bell, but Jasmine couldn’t place why. As far as she could think, there was no such shop in Glasgow, but it sounded familiar nonetheless. It had slightly uncomfortable subconscious associations too: something out of reach, unattainable, perhaps prohibitively expensive. She was talking the eighties, so maybe it was a now-defunct chain that had been around when she was a little girl or even before: somewhere her mum talked about but couldn’t afford.
First thing the next morning, Jasmine got busy chasing up her inquiries, finding that the two-day gap had been long enough to yield results, though she could hardly call them fruitful. She was informed that Tessa Garrion had not received any kind of welfare payments in thirty years: no unemployment claims, no child benefit, no disability allowance, nothing.
A further call to Polly established that neither Tessa nor any husband had claimed or transferred a married person’s allowance, and there was nothing in her records to indicate that she had left the country either.
The investigation was starting to take on a familiar feel. Tessawouldn’t be the first subject who turned out to have died whole decades before the client tried to re-establish contact, but she would certainly be the youngest, a tragedy Jasmine was feeling more acutely given the ways Tessa’s life had echoed both her own and, to a greater extent, her mother’s.
Jasmine felt a sense of duty-bound resignation as she reluctantly called Archie Cairnduff, her contact at New Register House in Edinburgh. This would put a lid on the whole thing, after which it would be a matter of finding out the location of the cemetery and as much information as could be gleaned about what Tessa had done with her brief life in the few years since her mother’s funeral.
As she dialled the General Register Office, Jasmine realised she was assuming Mrs Petrie hadn’t done so herself. She certainly didn’t mention it, only remarking her presumption that someone would have got in touch if Tessa had died. It was weird how many clients neglected to do this. Several of Jasmine’s investigations had been resolved through a simple inquiry to the GRO, Archie calling back in a day or so with the missing subject’s date and place of death. At first Jasmine wondered whether the clients simply didn’t realise this was a line of inquiry freely open to themselves, but when she pointed it out they always preferred that she do it ‘as part of her investigations’, even though it would cost them money.
It took her a while to understand what they were really paying her for. They didn’t go to the Registrar themselves because they didn’t want to hear their fears confirmed, a fait accompli mouldering in a file for years, even decades. It was important to them to make some kind of effort – not to mention a small financial sacrifice – while the possibility still existed, a gesture of penitence and regret, perhaps, before ultimately making peace with their loss.
Upon the advice of Harry Deacon, the first couple of times she got in touch with the GRO she had gone to West Register Street in person. Harry said it was important that she strike up a rapport with somebody there, so that they could put a face to her name when she called up in future. ‘It’ll help you skip the queue now and again,’ he said.
On her first visit she had utterly failed to strike up anything beyondthe most functionary conversation with some bleakly humourless female apparatchik who looked like she hated her job. More happily, upon her return she got talking to Archie, who had worked for the GRO forever, had a thousand stories to tell and was delighted to have someone who wanted to hear them.
That morning he began by expounding upon the office’s address, telling her how West Register Street was the phrase neurologists got patients to repeat in order to check for symptoms of stroke
Jasmine was happy for him to procrastinate. She always felt a little sad when it was confirmed that a subject was deceased, but this was one she had really come to hope was alive. Eventually, though, they had to get down to business. Archie confirmed that the date and place of birth checked out, so that they could be sure there was indeed only one Tessa Garrion. There was, as anticipated, no record of her ever marrying or having any children.
‘She hasn’t troubled the scorers, as the cricket commentators like to say.’
‘Hasn’t? You mean she’s still alive?’
‘Well if she isn’t, then the Register’s Office knows nothing about it. Have you any evidence indicating otherwise?’
‘No. Just a complete absence of evidence of this woman having existed after summer 1981.’Fell Purpose
It was when he spoke to the girl, Jasmine, that he realised with a hollow dread what would have to be done.
She wasn’t much to look at: freckle-faced, slight; one might even say scrawny, wearing a suit that didn’t make her look businesslike so much as resembling a school-leaver dressed up for her first job interview. She was softly spoken, far from strident in her manner; the girl’s body language under-confident, almost apologetic.
Yet he knew she had already uncovered the secrets of the Ramsay family’s disappearance. This was a worrying enough precedent, but far worse was the passion he recognised in her. She had trained as an actress. Her dead mother had been an actress. Now she was looking for an actress who had gone missing at around the same age as she was now; probably the same age her mother had been when she gave it up to raise the girl.
He could see it in her eyes: this was not a pay-packet to her, it was a quest. A crusade.
Everyone he loved, everything he was, everything he’d done, it would all be taken away. Everything he was working towards and everything he had ever achieved: all of his work would be erased from history. He would be remembered only as the monster who had killed that girl, one more squalid murderer rotting in jail.
The truth would destroy not only him. He could barely bring himself to imagine the pain and the shame that would rain down upon those he loved, those who relied upon him. What had any of them ever done to deserve this? Everything he had ever stood for would be burnt to ashes, all his family’s reputations tarnished by the flames. Each of their lives would be ruined.
There was no other path now, he knew. It was his duty as a husband, as a father.
She would have to die.Circus Games
Catherine could seldom remember seeing so many police in one place without any civilians in the picture. Given the auspiciousness of her surroundings, it looked like a convention, one that would have riots on the streets if the tax-payers found out the polis were having a mass jolly at Cragruthes Castle. The lawns, the paths, the avenues and the woods were swarming with officers. She could imagine the groundskeeper and the head gardener considering a suicide pact at the prospect of the damage.
It was about as far removed from the standard crime scene as she had ever encountered. Some castles just looked like very grand houses, a turret, a flag and an ancient family name all that distinguished them from other large country properties near by. The larger ones, such as Stirling and Edinburgh, comprised groups of grey buildings atop hills and volcanoes, fortified compounds rather than remarkable individual structures. This place, however, was the full fairy tale, precisely what every little girl and boy thought a castle ought to look like.
‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it,’ observed Beano Thomson, one of her young DCs. Beano had a fairly dry sense of humour, but could also be boyishly enthusiastic and almost annoyingly positive. Consequently, it wasn’t easy to be sure when he was joking.
‘Yes,’ Catherine replied. ‘If I’m ever going to get shot dead, I want it to be in a place just like this.’
Beano and DI Laura Geddes reported to Catherine as soon as she had stepped out of DC Zoe Vernon’s car. They had been among the first of the Glasgow contingent to arrive, getting there at around two in the morning.
‘What’s the script?’ Catherine asked them.
Laura had already given her the breakdown over the phone whileZoe drove them north, but she liked a recap whenever she was on site, and not just to keep abreast of updates. The memory could play strange tricks, and the way Catherine visualised things when she was first told them could linger confusingly in the mind if she didn’t hear the same points made when she was actually looking at the scene.
‘Incident happened at around nine-fifty last night,’ Laura said, her soft Edinburgh accent rising towards the end of each sentence, as though framing it as a question. ‘The laird and thirty-five corporate guests were watching an outdoor performance of, ironically enough,A Midsummer Night’s Dreamby a local amateur dramatics company.’
‘What’s ironic about it?’ asked Beano.
‘It was the twenty-first of June, bawheid,’ Zoe told him. ‘And it was nobody’s idea of a dream evening.’
‘The play was staged at several different settings around the castle grounds,’ Laura went on, ‘and the audience taken around on a seated gantry mounted on a trailer. Catering staff were following on foot, serving champagne between each scene change. At the end of the performance the victim and the laird came down from the audience and joined the cast to pose for a group photo. That was when it happened. Ambulance got here ten thirty-two, and the victim was pronounced dead ten thirty-five, but there wasn’t exactly any doubt about his condition. His brains were on the lawn.’
‘Ouch. Corporate, you said?’
‘Yes,’ Laura replied. ‘A delegation of senior bods from the Royal Scottish Bank, plus their very select guests. Seems it was a very high-class corpie, with the RSB paying the laird five hundred quid a skull. Wee bit more upscale than lunch and a soft seat at the football, so we’re not talking about a group of small businessmen,’ she added pointedly.
Christ, Catherine thought. A wankerfest. This just got better and better. ‘Where are they now?’
‘They’re all in the castle. The theatre company people as well, plus the catering staff.’
‘Have you got everybody’s details?’
Laura held up a list.
‘There are six detectives in there, questioning them all in turn. The lateness of the hour and the booze meant they’d no option but to stay the night as planned. There was one or two of the corporate guests talking about calling drivers up from Edinburgh and Glasgow, but I put the kibosh on that. I asked them all to remain here to assist in our inquiries, but now that the shock is starting to recede, the goodwill and sense of civic duty are wearing off too. They all want to go home and back to their terribly important jobs, and I get the distinct impression that lawyers are going to start being called any minute.’
‘If they haven’t been already,’ Catherine suggested. ‘Okay, make sure we’ve got everybody’s details and then let them go. We’re not going to get much out of them just now anyway. Now, the victim, was he a guest of the bank too?’
‘I don’t think so. I’m sure somebody said he was the special guest of the laird, but I haven’t spoken to him. Not sure anybody has, in any depth. He was being handled by one of the local officers, a familiar face for a bit of reassurance. He was practically catatonic with shock. One minute you’re standing there with a photographer going “Say ‘cheese!’”, and the next …’
‘Your guest suffers a permanent loss of face,’ said Catherine. ‘What about the photo? Do we have it? Who took it?’
‘We’ve got the camera. It was one of the castle staff, an amateur enthusiast taking the snap, but it was for the laird. He always poses with the cast, apparently, and keeps a framed pic as a souvenir.’
‘Well, let’s make sure it’s the only souvenir. Thirty-five guests means thirty-five phones, means thirty-five other cameras. Find out who else snapped anything. Get hold of those phones and sequester every image that was taken over the past twenty-four hours; I don’t care if that includes pictures of their dicks that they’ve been texting to their bit on the side.’
‘We’re already doing that,’ Laura assured her.
‘Some of them had their cameras set to automatically upload photos to online albums,’ warned Beano.
‘In that case, before you let them leave, make sure all of them know that if a “tragic last moments” photo – or something worse – finds its way on to the pages of any newspaper or website, then whoeverleaked it will very soon be left wishing his father had just cracked one off.’
‘You got it, boss,’ said Laura.
Her debrief complete, Laura went back inside the castle to relay Catherine’s order, while Beano accompanied her around the grounds to the locus on the far side of the building.
Because of the distance she had travelled and the unsettlingly picturesque surroundings, it felt weird to see so many familiar faces wandering around out of their normal context. She knew it was Strathclyde’s jurisdiction, and she had made various calls last night to ensure she had her own people on the ground this morning, but some subconscious part of her must have expected to feel like an interloper parachuted in to commandeer a whole load of strangers, not to mention anticipating all the grief that went with that. Instead it was like a school trip, and she was teacher.
There had been a time when Catherine would find herself standing among a mass of detectives and feel grateful that she wasn’t the ringmaster of such a circus. The more bodies you had at your disposal, the more the politics and the pressure to get results must be hellish, she thought. Now that she was the one in charge, she looked at the manpower milling about the place and just felt grateful that she could deploy such resources without any questions being asked. In fact, the only questions would have come had she chosen to deploy less. As anticipated, the political machinations had already begun; not so much a matter of certain people wanting results so much as making sure nobody would be able to say the authorities hadn’t done everything they could.
The question was, was it the victim or the venue that was loosening the purse strings? Probably a bit of each. Both the host and the headshot were of aristocratic background, as well-connected as they were well-heeled, and the tragic loss of the latter had to be multiplied by the embarrassment to the former when it came to calculating the score on the official priority index.
It really didn’t do to have people shot dead in the grounds of fairy-tale castles. Not with the tourist season just heating up; to say nothing of the ramifications of such a tragedy striking somebodymore commonly to be found on broadsheet arts pages than tabloid front pages. In this instance the term ‘victim profile’ had altogether different connotations. He knew everybody and everybody knew him. The news feeds were already buzzing with tributes not just from all corners of the arts world but charities too, calling him a miracle-worker, fêting his tireless endeavour, his generosity and his vision.
‘Hard to imagine we’re going to find a motive when nobody had anything bad to say about him,’ Zoe had observed wryly on the drive north. But it was always like that when the body was still warm. Once the victim was colder, so would be the opinions.View from the Stage
Jasmine took a short drive from her office in Arden on the south side to Eglinton Street, still south of the river, on the edge of the Gorbals. The Civic was starting to make a slightly worrying noise, half gurgle, half rattle, and she had to really rev it a few times going round corners in low gear. She resorted to the standard technical remedy for such automotive issues, which was to turn up the stereo until she couldn’t hear it any more.
She wasn’t sure this was going to cut it for much longer. Jimmy Eat World filled the air, covering the gurgle/rattle noise, but she could still feel the vibrations against the pedals and the occasional surge of complaint from the engine. At least it was her own choice of music that was covering the problem these days, since she’d purchased a cassette-shaped adapter for her mp3 player. Prior to that, she’d been reliant on the radio, the cassette deck having chewed up and spat out its last tape many years ago. She had been meaning to buy a CD player for it, but that had always been a low priority behind the constant replacement of parts that the car actually needed in order to keep running. In fact, she had sent it into the garage so often that, at this rate, she’d soon have assembled an entire new vehicle, but at far more expense than if she just went into a dealership and bought one.
She knew that was the more economical option, as well as the more sensible one. She even had the money these days to be able to afford it. The problem was, she just couldn’t give up this car.
It had been her mum’s car and as such a part of Jasmine’s life since she was seven. It was the car Jasmine sat in the back of while her mum drove her to school on rainy mornings, to the theatre on excitingly dark nights, or just to the supermarket at Canonmills a couple of times a week. It was the car Jasmine practised in while she was trying to get her licence. And it was the car in which she droveher mum to the hospital: for tests, for checks, for treatments and then for the last time.
It still smelled of her; or at least the smell of the car still made Jasmine feel like her mum was near by.
The little red Civic had meant so much to Mum, as it had been the first new car she’d ever owned; or nearly new, anyway. It was a special deal because although it had barely two hundred miles on the clock it was still second-hand. It had been owned by some well-off academic who normally treated himself to a new car each year with his book royalties, but who had decided to bring his purchase forward when Honda brought out a new model of the Civic.
Jasmine couldn’t understand why he’d want the updated version, as it seemed plain and fuddy-duddy compared to its predecessor: sleek and low-slung like a sports car. But sporty and sleek as it was, as well as being pre-owned, the professor’s Civic was now officially last year’s model, which meant Beth Sharp got a bargain.
Looking back, Jasmine wondered whether Mum felt able to splash the cash because Glen Fallan had been particularly generous with his guilt money that year.
God, was this the start of him corrupting her happiest memories? She could hear his voice in her head right then, saying: ‘See? This is why your mum was adamant that you shouldn’t find out about these things.’
She parked in front of a row of railway arches accommodating tiling and carpet showrooms, then got out and walked the short distance to her destination.
The Pantechnicon Theatre was the smallest of four auditoria either side of a quarter-mile stretch around where Eglinton Street became Pollokshaws Road. None of the four were serving the purposes they were built for, but the Pantechnicon could claim to be closest. It had begun life as a music hall before being converted into a cinema in the 1920s, functioning as such for four decades until the spread of television led to its closure in 1962. Three years later, it was reopened by Peter and Francis Winter, two brothers with the vision – and crucially the finance – to start a small repertory theatre.
Of its three near neighbours, one had been a Victorian theatrecalled The Colosseum, once notorious for being the first Scottish venue to stage Ibsen’sA Doll’s House. This came a full seven years after its London debut, the outraged response to which left many people under the mistaken impression that the play had in fact been banned. Jasmine considered it an unworthy fate that the walls once echoing to the ‘door-slam heard around the world’ now heard no more dramatic cry than ‘house!’
There were also two purpose-built picture houses: both huge, sprawling venues whose grandeur was testament to the popularity of cinema during its heyday. Neither had shown a film since the seventies, and both had served time as bingo halls. One was now enjoying a new lease of life as a music venue, while the other was a ‘development opportunity’.
All four venues stood out like the last surviving teeth in an aged boxer’s mouth, their size emphasised by the absence of any construction around them. They were surrounded by waste ground, car parks and tree-dotted open space, like abandoned cathedrals to a religion with no remaining followers. It seemed strange that the landscape should be dominated by these places of popular entertainment when there was no evidence of a populace to be entertained. This was because all the tenements that used to stand in between them had been torn down in the sixties. It was, after all, the Gorbals.
Jasmine had found that if you mentioned Glasgow to English people they would often respond by solemnly intoning the words ‘oh yes, the Gorbals’, even though that place didn’t exist any more. The area that carried the name was a strange mishmash of light industrial units, isolated high-rise blocks, the aforementioned open spaces and these grand remnants. It was almost apocalyptic the way they stood so massive against a flat and largely barren landscape. It made Jasmine think of the movieDelicatessen, a favourite of her mum’s.
It was too early for the box office to be open, so she was surprised to see the lights on inside. She had thought she’d need to knock at the doors or even phone the office, but Jasmine found one of the sets of swing doors unlocked and entered the Pantechnicon’s modest little foyer. It seemed even smaller when it was empty, difficult to imagine how quite so many people could throng there just before ashow. She heard the wheezy hum of a vacuum cleaner from upstairs, in the lobby to the rear of the dress circle, and was about to make her way up when a young guy in a shirt and tie emerged from the entrance to the stalls. Jasmine vaguely recognised him from previous visits: he was the front-of-house manager, she was sure.
‘Can I help you?’ he asked, sounding like he would if he could, and scrutinising her in a way that suggested he knew her face but couldn’t quite place her.
‘My name is Jasmine Sharp,’ she replied, handing him a business card. She still found it easier to do that than to actually say ‘I’m a private investigator’, because it still didn’t sound right coming out of her mouth, and the card at least looked in some way official.
He looked at it with surprise, but at least it was a surprise that indicated this was a more interesting visit than he was expecting, rather than surprise at the mismatch between what was stated on the card and the person who had handed it to him.
‘Robert Newsome, assistant manager,’ he said.
‘I was wondering if you would be able to give me a number or an address where I could reach Dorothy Prowis.’
His eyes widened and a smile began to form. He seemed both relieved and amused, like a problem had presented itself and then instantly been resolved.
‘I can do better than that. She’s through there, up on the stage, but she’s got a group of students with her. I’m sure she’ll be able to spare a moment when she’s finished. I take it she’s not in any kind of trouble?’ he added as an afterthought, his expression indicating how unlikely he considered this.
‘Dot?’ Jasmine responded. Her incredulous tone was intended to communicate not only that her answer was in the negative, but that she knew more than he might assume about the subject of her inquiry.
She made her way into the stalls, where she could hear the familiar sound of Dot Prowis’s voice, but the woman herself was obscured by a raggle-taggle gathering of drama students standing on the apron. Even more than the foyer, the stalls and the circle looked so much smaller when there was no one sitting in them. She remembered being taken here by her mum’s friend Judith to see a production ofPeter Pan, and from her position near the back downstairs it had seemed every bit as big and grand as the King’s in Edinburgh, or the Lyceum or the Festival Theatre. Standing behind the last row now, it seemed so neat and compact, such a short distance to the stage. And as she knew, the view from the stage looking out at an empty house made it seem smaller still.
She had stood on that same apron, listening to the same talk, just a few years previously. Dot Prowis was retired from theatre now, but she still taught SATD students about theatrical design, and when possible preferred to do so not in a lecture hall or rehearsal studio but on the very stage where she had done most of her work. Dot had been Francis Winter’s protégée, assisting him since the early seventies and eventually taking over from him in 1986 as the Pantechnicon’s designer, a post she held until her own retirement in 2005. Jasmine knew that she would have worked with Tessa Garrion and, given Dot’s memory for detail, was hoping that thirty years wasn’t too long a stretch for her recall.
The Winter brothers were born in Durham, where their father owned and managed a theatre, so they had grown up helping with everything from repairing ripped seats to painting scenery. They renovated the Pantechnicon – largely with their own hands – and rapidly built up a successful repertory theatre established upon aesthetic principles that Dot still evangelised. Frustrated by what Peter Winter described as ‘the tyrannous geometry’ of the proscenium arch, Francis frequently designed sets that brought the action into the auditorium, appropriating the boxes and constructing catwalks, all at the nightly expense of seats that could not therefore be sold.
Dot had taken this concept of ‘exploding the space’ to its apotheosis in 1988 with her design forUbu Roi. She built two gangways from the stage to either side of the dress circle, allowing the actors to run in a great Escher-esque loop during the play’s chase and battle scenes. She strung a flying-fox zip line from the highest of the stage’s many platforms all the way down the aisle to the back of the stalls, and she had a trampoline in the orchestra pit. Jasmine had studied this production in depth, staring longingly at photographs and wishing she’d been around to see it. Even now she felt a pang ofregret amid the fascination as Dot talked the students through how it was done.
‘Of course, health and safety would never allow it nowadays, but it was magnificent. The audiences adored it … almost as much as the cast.’
Jasmine let go a little sigh even as the students laughed. That was when she knew the pang wasn’t about never having had the chance to see the Pantechnicon’s famousUbu. It was about the chance she still did have, the last time she was standing in this room listening to the same lecture, the first week of June only a short few years ago. The students were next year’s intake, participating in the annual induction course designed to prime their summer reading before they started in earnest in the autumn.
Dorothy spoke for a few more minutes, still obscured by her audience, then she finally came into view as the students dispersed. Jasmine remembered the drill: the students would now be encouraged to physically explore the set, to do what the audience could not. She could hear Dorothy tell them not to just wander around like it was sculpture, but to ‘truly inhabit it, treat it like one of those …soft-playfacilities for children’.
In that respect it was a good set to have the run of, particularly considering it was the end of the theatre’s spring programme. The final play in each season tended to be the most minimalist in terms of production values due to the budget having largely been spent by that time, but the present designer, Keith Farrel, had made inventive use of stock equipment and made a cheap set look expensive. The stage was fitted with a panoply of scaffolds and platforms, bedecked in sweeping red and blue drapes, flags and banners. It looked both lush and kinetic, faintly reminding Jasmine of the cover of the last Biffy Clyro album.
The play wasIphigénieby Racine, a quintessential example of seventeenth-century French neoclassicism. Directors of a naturalist bent were drawn to the psychological realism of Racine’s characters, often opting for modern dress or seventeenth-century costume to emphasise a timelessness to the characters. This being the Pantechnicon, however, and the director being Peter Winter’s son Daniel, they weremost definitely back in ancient Greece, the banners and flags indicating a war footing in preparation for the assault on Troy.
Jasmine made her way up on to the stage at the right-hand side of the apron by means of the short black steps that were all but invisible from just a few rows back in the stalls. As she climbed, a male student went flying past her, leaping from the stage with Dorothy’s encouragement.
‘That’s it,’ she was saying. ‘Explode the space.’
Dorothy was facing stage left, her back to Jasmine. She was dressed in a black trouser suit, her silver hair swept back on to her collar.
‘Ms Prowis?’ Jasmine asked, prompting Dorothy to turn delicately on her heel.
Jasmine couldn’t help but smile as she took in her gold earrings and red silk scarf. Black, red and gold. They were the Pantechnicon’s unofficial colours, emphasised in all of Francis Winter’s early sets. Dorothy wore them like a priest or disciple. They spoke of spectacle, opulence, grandeur and just a hint of the bawdy.
Dorothy stared at her for a moment, as though trying to piece together why she didn’t quite fit the picture. Then a curious little smile told Jasmine she’d worked it out.
‘Goodness gracious. Jasmine Sharp. Goodness gracious.’
Dorothy’s tone was always as precise as it was polite, almost accentless but with just a whisper of Welsh if you knew what to listen for. Jasmine reckoned you could write down much of what Dorothy said and insert it seamlessly into a play from just about any period since the eighteenth century. Conspicuously modern coinages, when she had no choice but to use them, seemed almost quarantined within her sentences, like she didn’t quite trust them or didn’t know what to do with them; hence her hesitation over the term soft-play.
‘How are you? I was most sorry to hear about your mother.’
Jasmine never knew how to respond to such sentiments – should you say thank you? – so she simply nodded.
‘I saw her act, you know, back at the Tron. More than once, I’m sure, but I particularly remember her from a John Byrne play, the second of theSlab Boystrilogy, the name of which I can never recall. She had just the right quality of what the locals refer to as “gallusness”. I’m sorryI never said as much to you before, but I was unaware that you were her daughter until quite recently.’
‘That’s okay,’ Jasmine managed, reeling somewhat from the clarity of this reminiscence. She was aware of secreting it away in her mind, a precious and most unexpected treasure to be unwrapped and appreciated later. She’d love to press Dorothy on what else she might tell her about Mum back in the eighties, but they both had business to attend.
‘I heard you had to drop out. What are you doing with yourself nowadays?’
Jasmine knew that on this occasion she couldn’t just whip out a card, so she took a breath and gathered herself before answering.
‘I’m working as a private investigator.’
Working as. That was the qualification that helped her say it without sounding foolish. It was like a disclaimer that stated she wasn’t laying claim to anything. You didn’t say you were ‘working as’ something you had trained for years to do, like a doctor or an archaeologist.
Dorothy blinked and said nothing for just a little longer than was normal during small talk.
‘I quite don’t know what to say to that,’ she eventually replied.
‘That’s okay,’ said Jasmine with an apologetic laugh, as though she was responsible for Dorothy’s discomfiture.
‘No, sincerely. I’m seldom astonished by the answer when I make that inquiry of former students. I would ordinarily be able to respond with “well done” or “how interesting” or a usefully noncommittal “oh, yes?” but you’ve left me with no frame of reference whatsoever. Goodness gracious. And are you here … on business?’
‘I am indeed. I was hoping you might be able to offer some insight into a case I’m working on. Do you have a few minutes?’
Dorothy stepped off into the wings, while the students continued to wander, climb, jump and occasionally tumble from the platforms. The Pantechnicon’s stage had a surprisingly steep rake, so that moving downstage was also moving downhill, and this was going to do for someone’s ankle if they didn’t learn quickly.
‘I’m looking for information about an actress who worked here back in the early eighties. Her name was Tessa Garrion.’
Dorothy looked down at the floor for a moment, searching her thoughts, then stared back at Jasmine with genuine surprise.
‘Tessa Garrion? My goodness, isn’t that extraordinary? I’d quite forgotten that name.’
‘Well, it has been a very long time.’
‘No, you misunderstand. I have total recall when it comes to actors, and she’s no different. I can see her right there, beneath the fly gallery, as Katherina to Morgan Spark’s Petruchio inThe Taming of the Shrew. But it just struck me that I hadn’t heard her name in all this time. Theatre can be a small world, but people move on and you don’t hear what happened to them unless they become terribly famous, or perhaps you’re talking to someone and they happen to mention working with a person you used to know. Tessa Garrion. One moment she’s standing on that stage. Boom. Thirty years pass and you’re the first person to say her name.’
‘What do you remember of her?’
‘I remember thinking we had unearthed a gem. Quite simply, the woman could act. I know that sounds rather trite, but it was as true then as it is now that a young girl with a pretty face can have a lot of stage presence, often concealing a lack of true talent. The same goes for beautiful young men. Tessa was not classically good looking. She was far fromunattractive, but it wasn’t her face that drew so much notice. She had real craft. As a result, she was incomparably adept at playing women older than herself.’
Dorothy smiled wryly at a memory, casting her eyes to the apron as though Tessa Garrion was standing there.
‘She was Lysistrata. Quite brilliant. She could convey the sense of a young woman wise beyond her years, and she could truly convince as an older woman; which is not to say she couldn’t play a giddy young thing when required. But you have to understand that the wisdom and maturity were all in the performance. In person, there was probably more of the giddy young thing about her than the wise old head on young shoulders; though perhaps my impression was skewed by the maturity of her work, which tended to make oneforget she was only in her early twenties. I don’t wish to imply that she was particularly giddy or impulsive; just that one noticed it more in contrast to her professional conduct.’
‘And what about her personal life?’ Jasmine asked. ‘Do you remember anything about that? Did she have anyone significant in her orbit at that time?’
‘I’m afraid I have less of a facility for recalling such details, unless they impacted professionally. She didn’t want for male attention, I remember that much, and she enjoyed it. Not in any kind of coquettish manner; she enjoyed male company. She held her own around men. She was the kind of young woman that men wished to impress, and by that I mean that first and foremost they wanted her to respect them, as opposed to merely wishing to possess her. What is your interest, incidentally?’
‘I’m trying to locate her for a relative. They lost touch some time ago and I’m having difficulty tracking her down. In fact, the last time they spoke, Tessa was still working here, so I’m trying to work out what she did after that.’
‘I regret to say I won’t be able to assist. I haven’t heard from her or indeed of her since she left us after the spring season in 1981.The Merchant of Venice,’ she added with a troubled frown. ‘She was Jessica. It wasn’t the best use of her talents. Not a very memorable production, in fact. End of the season. We were potless, so we engaged the standard tactic: put on some Shakespeare and hope the audience interprets a Spartan set as minimalistmise-en-scènerather than an indication that there wasn’t enough left in the budget to buy a tin of paint.’
‘Or a few drapes,’ Jasmine replied with a glance to the stage, eliciting a knowing smile.
‘So when Tessa left the company, what were the circumstances?’
Though it was thirty years ago, Jasmine found it indelicate to ask Dorothy outright whether Tessa was dropped. Theatre folk could be enduringly sensitive about these things, no matter on which side of a decision they had found themselves. She was trying to understand why Tessa would give up, and Dorothy thus far hadn’t painted apicture of an actress whose ability was in doubt. It certainly sounded like money had been tight, so the company might have been forced to contract. It could have been last in, first out, but surely Tessa would have understood the realpolitik.
‘I mean, was there bad feeling?’ Jasmine added.
‘In theatre there’s always bad feeling at a parting of the ways. Artists tend to feel a little more keenly than the average. Nobody likes being on the end of rejection, even when they understand that realistically it couldn’t be another way.’
‘So do you remember if Tessa reacted particularly badly to being let go?’
Dorothy looked at her so intently that Jasmine feared her question had been interpreted as an accusation. It was, in fact, a combination of confusion and incredulity, with a little remembered exasperation sprinkled on top.
‘Good God, girl, we didn’t “let her go”. We couldn’t hold on to her.’
‘She left of her own volition?’
‘Of course. She was too good to serve much more than an apprenticeship at a regional rep. She knew it … and we knew it. Didn’t stop a few huffs and tantrums, but one could interpret those as back-handed compliments. She was always going to spread her wings. I think she had several auditions lined up in London. West End, I’m assuming, though I do recall someone mentioning film or television.’
Dorothy must have read Jasmine’s confounded expression.
‘Is this at odds with whatever else you’ve learned?’
‘More than a little. What would you say if I told you Tessa Garrion never acted again. Not professionally, anyway.’
‘I’d be flabbergasted. And I’d ask you how you could know this.’
‘I’ve investigated her tax records. She never had another job in the theatre. After leaving the Pantechnicon, her only work of any description was in a shoe shop.’
‘A shoe shop? Are you quite sure?’
‘I got it from HMRC. Death and taxes, nothing surer. She left the Pantechnicon, then there was a gap – presumably her London auditions – after which her only paycheque came from the GlassShoe Company. That’s from before my time, and I don’t think they’re trading any more.’
Dorothy fixed her with a strange look.
‘GlassShoe?’ she asked.
There was a twinkle of amused curiosity in Dorothy’s eyes.
‘I don’t think it was a shoe shop, my dear.’
Jasmine was about to reply that her contact at HMRC categorised the job as being in ‘retail footwear’, when she remembered that her contact at HMRC was the rather dull and literal-minded Polly Seaton. When Polly said that, she may not have been quoting from records, merely drawing an inference.
‘Actually …’ she stumbled.
‘Because this couldn’t possibly be a coincidence.’
‘The fact that there was, around the time you’re talking about, a rather ambitious young man with designs on starting a new theatre company. He had trod these very boards – he was with us for three seasons, in fact – but with the self-confidence bordering on delusion that only aristocratic lineage can inculcate, he fancied himself as actor-director of his own troupe. He wasn’t good enough at either, to be honest; time proved that. A competent enough actor, for sure, but nothing more. He did, however, have one genuine gift in abundance, one that many people in this business tend to undervalue: he may not have been a great talent himself, but he had a fine eye for recognising it in others. He knew what elements might work together to produce something magical, but he only really succeeded once he had accepted that he needed to leave it to experts to fine-tune the chemistry. Fortunately he became as adept at recognising talent in directors as in cast and crew.’
‘So would he have worked with Tessa?’ Jasmine asked impatiently. She could tell Dorothy was holding something back, but the older woman had a rather mischievous look on her face that suggested Jasmine somehow deserved to be thus toyed with.
‘Oh yes. Their times here overlapped. They both worked under Peter and Francis, and they both had the nous to appreciate that itwas a privilege. Make no mistake, this young chap greatly admired what the Pantechnicon had achieved. It wasn’t so much that he thought he could do better as simply that he’d like to do different. Specifically, he believed the Pantechnicon wasn’tScottishenough. He felt the Winters, being from Durham, were rather shy of the theatre taking on too overtly Glaswegian an identity, and that this manifested itself in their choice of plays.
‘I suspect a few harsh run-ins with reality adjusted his sensibilities. He runs a rather successful little theatrical enterprise these days but, most ironically, his company is London-based and wouldn’t dream of staging anything so parochial as a Scottish play. Nonetheless, its name harks back to his earlier ambitions.’
‘Yes. It’s a little joke, a play on the original Gaelic name from which Glasgow is derived: Glaschu. But what has me curious, and what cannot possibly be a coincidence, is that the aforementioned enterprise is named Glass ShoeProductions.’
And there it was. It had been staring her in the face for days, and it certainly wasn’t the negligible distinction between Company and Productions that had foxed her: just a classic case of can’t see it for looking at it.
She understood why Dorothy had been wearing that strange little smile: she couldn’t believe Jasmine hadn’t worked it out and she knew she would kick herself when the penny finally dropped. Jasmine also understood why the name had prompted slightly uncomfortable associations, and they were nothing to do with where she or her mother could afford to shop. It was an unattainable dream: the West End stage.
Glass Shoe Productions appeared on the posters, in a little strap at the top that nobody paid attention to. Even Jasmine would have had to think for a moment if she’d been asked it as a quiz question. It was an incidental detail. People didn’t associate these shows with the name of a company, but the name of one man.The Phoenix and the Ashes
So. Another dream come true, thought Jasmine, trying not to gag on the irony. First her career had put her on stage at the Pantechnicon and now, a few days later, here she was, treading the boards professionally at the Edinburgh Playhouse and working with Hamish Queen no less.
It had stung a little, calling in a favour from Charlotte Queen that was in no way directly beneficial to improving her chances of an acting gig, though in the tiny shrine in her heart the keeper of the flame was whispering to her that any kind of face time with the West End’s dream-weaver-in-chief had to count for something. It was a chance to make an impression, at the very least. Presence based on genuine character? Authenticity deriving from true life experience? Stanislavski Method emotional memory? Got it all in spades, darling.
She’d just have to hope he was philosophical with regard to the fine line between acting and deceit.
Jasmine had learned the hard way not to tell an interviewee in advance what she really wanted to talk about. Not only did forewarned mean forearmed, it sometimes meant the interview didn’t happen at all. The downside was that people could become very huffy about extending their cooperation under what they retrospectively considered false pretences. The trick was making it appear that the conversation had moved on to sensitive territory by happenstance, and if Jasmine didn’t pull that off today she’d be burning two very big bridges.
It had taken three calls to Charlotte to secure a meeting with her father, but not because she needed convincing. Charlotte seemed excited that Jasmine was asking, still tripping on that ‘how exciting your job is’ vibe, and had agreed right away. The subsequent calls had been necessary reminders because Charlotte, even when her sentimentsand intentions were genuine, was not good at following up on things that weren’t germane to her immediate ambitions. She came through in the end, though Jasmine couldn’t help wondering how many goodwill points she had used up through her persistence.
Hamish Queen’s PA, Melanie Gilhaus, got in touch on his behalf and, after several more phone calls, they finalised a time and place for a meeting. Initially, Jasmine thought she was going to have to fly to London and had called Mrs Petrie for authorisation regarding the expenses this would incur. Mrs Petrie was back down in Cornwall by this time, which made Jasmine fear the impetus might have dissipated, but rather she was adamant that Jasmine persist. Jasmine was doubly relieved, not only because it was good for business but because she’d have found it very difficult to walk away from this now. She told Mrs Petrie that she was following up a solid lead, but decided to hold back on the fact that it was the only one left, everything else pointing to her sister having been dead for thirty years.
Before she could book a flight, Melanie called with an update on Hamish’s travel plans. He was flying back from New York a couple of days early because he had decided to personally oversee the arrangements for his new touring production’s opening run in Edinburgh. If she was available, Hamish would be able to squeeze in a meeting at the theatre.
Melanie was waiting for her at the theatre’s main entrance on Greenside Place, where Leith Street, Queen Street and Leith Walk all converged. She was late twenties,terriblytrendy, sunglasses perched on the top of her head even though she was mostly going to be indoors, an affectation all the more pronounced given that the shades were infringing on a haircut that Jasmine suspected cost more than her own suit.
She had an iPhone clipped to the waistband of her jeans, an iPad clutched in her left hand, a sheaf of script pages and two different-coloured highlighter pens grasped in her right, yet she still looked breezy and calm. Jasmine would have wanted to kill her if her thoughts weren’t largely occupied by pleasant reminiscences of standing on this very concourse with anticipation thrilling through her so intensely that she recalled literally bouncing up and down.
She loved coming here when she was a wee girl. It was always big, first-class shows at the Playhouse, usually imported from London’s West End. More unashamedly glitzy and commercial than anything at the Lyceum, more polished and cosmopolitan than touring shows at the King’s. Some people were very sniffy about that, and at drama school she remembered feeling it would be wise not to mention how many such productions she had attended here at the Playhouse. She wasn’t confident enough to argue her case back then, but Jasmine didn’t believe that an appreciation of commercial theatre precluded appreciation or enjoyment of work from the other end of the spectrum, or vice versa. There were occasions when you fancied something intimate andavant garde, just as there were occasions when you fancied a meal of intricately arranged, artistically presented, even experimental cooking. But there were other times when you were in the mood for an old-fashioned burger and you knew nothing else would do. Those big West End shows at the Playhouse, the Hamish Queen and the Cameron Mackintosh productions, those burgers came with all the trimmings: a guilty pleasure par excellence.
Melanie greeted her with a professional smile – ‘You must be Jasmine’ – and led her briskly inside, thumbing something on her iPad as they passed through the foyer. The implication was clear: Melanie wasthisbusy, so just imagine how busy Hamish is.
The interior of the Playhouse was so plush, so opulent, that it always piqued Jasmine’s incredulity that it was once a regular rock venue. She had heard her mum and her friends reminisce about who had played here during the eighties: U2, Big Country, INXS, REM, The Alarm, Echo and the Bunnymen, Mötley Crüe and even Metallica. From what they said, the shows were as raucous as the roster would suggest, these groups playing Barrowlands one night and this place the next. It was small wonder they opted for a more upmarket repertoire after the Playhouse’s early nineties renovation.
Jasmine followed Melanie down the side aisle to the right of the stalls. She could see Hamish Queen standing still amid the ferment of movement and activity on stage, talking in animated but seemingly humorous tones to a man in grey overalls. He was dressed casually in jeans and a blue T-shirt under a dark tailored jacket,albeit they were designer jeans, a designer T-shirt and the tailor was probably on Savile Row. His appearance was less flamboyant than his media profile normally suggested, but Jasmine realised this was probably him in his work clothes.
He noticed Melanie’s ascent to the stage and gave her the most fleeting of gestures, two fingers briefly extended at his waist. Melanie responded with a nod and relayed the information.
‘Hamish is just going to be a few minutes. Are you all right here, or would you like to come upstairs for a coffee?’
Jasmine was happy to wait where she was. It gave her time to take in the sheer scale of what was going on around her. On her way from the car park, she had looked down from a glass-walled footbridge and seen the convoy of Stage Truck juggernauts parked down on Greenside Row. It was very clear nobody at Glass Shoe Productions was wondering how to design a set to disguise the fact that the budget had all but run out.
It looked like some administrative glitch had caused the sets for four different productions to have been simultaneously delivered. Jasmine had never seen so many wagons and skids, platforms and parallels, doors and flats, revolves and stairs, while above her head a massive motorised winch system suspended enough battens, drops and drapes for several seasons’ worth of plays at the Pantechnicon. It was no glitch. This was all for one show.
Her head spun to think of how much money had been spent on this affair, but that was pocket change compared to how much it was likely to bring in. This was the first touring run for the show that had reportedly proven to be Hamish Queen’s most profitable West End production to date. However, despite five years of runaway box-office results, this was one production that he would not be transferring to Broadway. It was a strictly British phenomenon: a stage musical based on the eighties schooldays drama seriesGrange Hill.
Satisfied with whatever he’d said to the guy in the overalls, Hamish Queen strode across the stage to where Jasmine was waiting, slaloming scenery and stage-hands with practised grace.
He greeted her with a grin and a handshake.
‘Hello. You must be Yasmin.’
‘Jasmine,’ Melanie corrected, before Jasmine could.
‘Sorry. Jasmine. Shall we go somewhere a little quieter? Maybe grab a coffee?’
‘That would be great.’
For a guy named Hamish, his accent was as Scottish as cricket and warm beer, but his sense of nationality had evidently always been very pronounced.
He led her through a side door out of the stalls and up a back stair, from which they emerged into the dress circle. They made their way to the bar, which was deserted, but even as Hamish pulled a seat out for her a member of the theatre staff entered briskly and ducked beneath the bar-top. Jasmine didn’t know if Melanie had facilitated this or whether the Playhouse staff were simply on standby for such courtesies, but either way it communicated that this was a man used to things quietly being arranged for his convenience. She was almost embarrassed now to consider the absurdity of believing she could make a lasting impression that might one day serve her well if she was ever to audition. Once this meeting was over he was as likely to remember her as he was the bloke who had sped in to serve them cappuccinos.
‘Charlotte told me you were at the Academy together.’
‘That’s right. She was a couple of years ahead of me. A couple of light-years, actually.’
Hamish liked this. A man of his success was probably inured to flattery, but Jasmine doubted he’d ever tire of hearing his daughter being praised.
‘Forgive me, I’ve been travelling and the old memory is still on New York time. Charlotte said something about you researching the early days of Glass Shoe. Is that right?’
‘That’s right,’ she confirmed. Jasmine had phrased it very precisely too, saying she wanted to ask about ‘Glass Shoe’: not Glass Shoe Productions or the Glass Shoe Company. The ambiguity was intended to protect her by Hamish being the one who misinterpreted rather than her being the one who misled. She was aware that the Glass Shoe Company must have been a failure: that somewhere back in the day Hamish Queen’s attempt to create a stridently artistic anddistinctly Scottish repertory company, his dreams of being an actor-director and his aesthetic idealism had all crashed and burned. Glass Shoe Productions had risen in its place, but Jasmine was aware that rich, powerful and successful people preferred to talk about the phoenix rather than the flames.
Hamish demonstrated that he was no exception by quickly turning the subject of the early days into a conduit for discussing his present concerns.
‘I’m going to need the caffeine then, if I’m rifling through the dustier reaches of the memory vaults,’ he said, having a sip of cappuccino. Then it was back to the future. ‘It’s certainly been quite a journey, though I do have to ask myself whether I’ve come all that far when I’m putting on a musical based on an eighties TV show. It’s taken me aback, though, truly. I was always very wary about whether I could make it fly. When I first came up with it, I remember thinking to myself that it was either the best idea I’d ever had or by far the worst, and I don’t think I’d made my mind up until I saw the first month’s receipts.’
He was being modest, in the way one can afford to be when discussing the origins of an enterprise that delivered vindication in such bounteous measure. TheGrange Hillmusical was typical of his alchemical touch. As Dot Prowis had said, he had the vision and sometimes outright audacity to gather elements that didn’t make sense until he’d put them together, then in retrospect they seemed so obvious that every other producer was asking themselves why they never thought of it first.
Other commentators Jasmine had read suggested he had signed a deal with the devil whereby all his naff ideas somehow turned to hits. The implied price, of course, was his artistic soul.
Making a musical out ofGrange Hillwas a perfect example of an apparently base idea rendered gold, but to appreciate Hamish Queen’s true acumen you had to look at how he’d packaged it, paying particularly close attention to the soundtrack albums. Plural. Instead of cherrypicking all the best-known (and thus over-familiar) hits of the eighties, he had bucked the West End singalong trend in pursuit of evoking what he called ‘genuine nostalgia’.
‘You don’t feel nostalgic when you hear the big hits of the eighties,’ he explained to Jasmine, relaxing into his subject, ‘because you’ve been hearing them throughout every decade since. You feel genuine nostalgia when you hear something youhaven’theard since then, something in the background that you weren’t aware you were noticing at the time.’
To this end, he had scoured old playlists to find songs that had been in high rotation on radio stations during the eighties, but which had not been hits: songs such as ‘See That Glow’ by This Island Earth, ‘Day and Night’ by Balaam and the Angel, ‘Swallow Glass’ by The Flaming Mussolinis and ‘Glasshouse’ by The Promise. Not only did this give him the ‘overheard’ nostalgia effect he was looking for, but he picked up the track licensing rights for next to (and in some cases precisely) nothing. Then the true sprinkling of fairy dust came in casting a host of beautiful young teens, each already known to the public by being TV talent show runners-up, and getting them to record modern versions of the songs.
The result was a stage musical that was a massive hit across two generations, each purchasing its own preferred flavour of the official soundtrack. Those raised onThe X-Factorbought the ‘original stage cast’ album, while their parents snapped up a compilation of revived subconscious memories, few of which had previously been available on CD, never mind iTunes.
Jasmine’s mum had bought it. Jasmine thought it was ghastly, strong evidence for why these songs had merely lurked in the background, with two notable exceptions: ‘Send My Heart’ by The Adventures and a track called ‘Stranger on Home Ground’.
‘But there I go, babbling about today’s show when you’re here to talk about the past. I have to apologise. I have this “auto-promote” reflex and go into publicity mode whenever I start talking to a journalist. Is it theStageyou’re with? I can’t remember if Charlotte said. I’m sure she told me, but it was a few days ago and I’m a bit jet-lagged.’
‘I’m not a journalist, Mr Queen,’ she decided to make clear. ‘I’m a private investigator.’
She surprised herself by how easy that was to say. It helped thatshe had briefly contemplated a worse alternative, that of allowing Hamish to persist in his misapprehension.
His eyes narrowed for a second, then his face lit up in recollection.
‘No, of course. I warned you the memory wasn’t firing on all cylinders this morning. Charlotte told me all about you, I’m sure. You’re the girl who was involved in that business over the Ramsay disappearances.’
‘That’s me,’ she said, trying to sound professional and conceal the buzz it gave her that he knew about this stuff.
‘I remember it from at the time. Spooky business. And yet you got to the bottom of it all these years later. I suppose I should be worrying about what skeletons you might shake out of my closet, especially if you’re talking about the early days.Metropolisat the Dominion,Treasure Islandat the Aldwych: there were some corpses strewn around those, let me tell you.’
He said all this with a little chuckle, benignly patronising. As Dorothy had so frankly confessed, people generally didn’t know what to say when you told them you were a PI, but in Hamish’s case nor had he given any thought to the ramifications, otherwise he might not be sounding so glib.
‘I’m actually looking to dig a little further back than that. It’s to do with an actress named Tessa Garrion. I believe she worked with you under the auspices of the Glass Shoe Company, the precursor to Glass Shoe Productions.’
He stopped mid-sip. Those ramifications were impacting now. I’m a private investigator. That means I’m going to be sticking my nose into the very things you least want anyone to. Such as your failed theatre company.
‘Tessa Garrion,’ he said, his eyes widening as he repeated the words. ‘There’s a name I haven’t heard in …’ He did his mental arithmetic. ‘Jesus, is it really thirty years? And the Glass Shoe Company: where did you unearth that little coffin?’
‘Tax records,’ Jasmine told him. ‘The Glass Shoe Company paid her a month’s salary.’
‘And no more, unfortunately. If you’re trying to find Tessa Garrion,then I’m afraid the history of the Glass Shoe Company is unlikely to constitute a rich seam of information. It was a stillborn venture, over almost as soon as it began. It’s a testament to the fastidiousness of our tax collectors that they own the only record of the company’s existence. Blink and you’d have missed it. We certainly didn’t do anything so eyecatching as stage a play.’
‘But you paid Tessa a month’s salary. What for?’
‘She was paid in advance, as much as anything to convince her that the company was the real deal. She wasn’t a person who needed to take some dodgy deferred-payment gig just to get work.’
‘I’m told she was very talented.’
‘God, yes. A true natural,’ Hamish said, with genuine warmth. ‘When she announced she was leaving the Pantechnicon, I pleaded with her to join my company, even if only for one play. It was like asking a budding superstar to come and play for Elgin City when you knew Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich were waiting with open chequebooks.’
‘But she said yes.’
‘No, actually, she didn’t. She went to London in search of stages big enough both for her ambitions and her talent.’
‘So how come …’ Jasmine prompted needlessly. They both knew he was going to explain, but she could tell that a few oohs and ahs were expected of her in the role of his audience.
‘She ended up with Glass Shoe? I’m not entirely sure. There were offers in London, certainly. To return to the footballer metaphor, I think it was like the budding young superstar found his head was spinning as he contemplated the career that lay ahead of him, so he opted to play out the remainder of the season with Elgin City, knowing he could hone his game away from the bright lights.’
‘Hadn’t she done that enough at the Pantechnicon?’
‘Those lights were still pretty bright. What we were planning was a tour of small Highland venues: community centres, church halls and the like. A few weeks later she called me up at rather short notice and asked if the offer was still open. I couldn’t believe my luck. Turned out it was the only luck that particular venture enjoyed. We barely made itinto rehearsal, let alone out.’
‘What went wrong?’
‘Oh, just a mishmash of rookie mistakes, naiveté and a large dollop of hubris. Typified by the fact that our debut production was going to be the Scottish play. Height of arrogance, tempting the fates like that. Glass Shoe derives from the Gaelic for Glasgow; I was determined that we be a Scottish company committed to putting on Scottish plays. Thus it was my bold – older heads might say reckless – declaration of intent to start withtheScottish play.’
‘You meanMacbeth?’ said Jasmine, committing this small heresy partly for purposes of clarity and partly because she hated both the superstition and the posturing that went along with it.
Hamish gave her a sour look, like some bourgeois auntie who had just heard her swear. Then he sighed regretfully, his head shaking just a little.
‘I used to call it that too,’ he confessed. ‘I thought saying “the Scottish play” was a dreadful affectation, people wearing it like a badge just to show they were fully paid-up luvvies. I’ve learned humility since. Itisa dreadful affectation, but experience has taught me to tread lightly regarding its source. Let’s just say there won’t be any light-hearted musicals based on it coming soon from Glass Shoe Productions.’
‘So what happened afterwards? Do you know where Tessa went next? When did you last speak to her?’
Hamish picked up his coffee, saw that the cup was all but empty, put it down and frowned.
‘I’m afraid I’ve no idea. I didn’t speak to her afterwards. We all abandoned the project, went our separate ways – in my case to lick my wounds. Sent homeward to think again, though in retrospect I was more the Bruce with his spider than proud Edward. I did try again.’
And back to the phoenix, Jasmine thought.
She caught him glancing to the side and spied Melanie hovering just outside the bar. She was waiting to haul him away on a made-up pretext if she got the nod, and she’d just received it. Jasmine had time for one last question, if she got it in before Melanie reached the table.
‘Who else was in the company?’ she asked, interrupting before he could saddle up to go into auto-promote mode, as he’d described it.
Hamish glanced to the side again, tracking Melanie’s progress. He wanted to be rescued.
‘It’s been such a long time. I really wouldn’t know where to find any of them,’ he said apologetically.
‘That’s my area,’ Jasmine replied. ‘I just need names.’
Melanie made it into range, iPhone in hand.
‘I’m sorry,’ the PA began. She was looking at Jasmine, ostensibly in apology for the interruption, but it could equally have been addressed to Hamish for not reacting sooner. ‘Hamish, you’re needed downstairs. It’s Jocelyn. She says it can’t wait.’
‘Duty calls,’ Hamish said to Jasmine, getting up from his seat.
‘You were going to give me some names.’
‘I’m afraid Mr Queen is needed quite urgently,’ said Melanie, running interference.
‘The only name that leaps to mind is Adam Nolan,’ Hamish said. It sounded familiar, possibly from TV, but Jasmine couldn’t place him.
‘Beyond that I’m struggling. It was another lifetime. I could tell you a couple of first names I’m barely half certain of, but the surnames are gone.’
‘Surely you must be able to remember more than that,’ Jasmine stated, drawing a warning glare from Melanie, who was clearly unused to anyone treating her boss with anything less than deference. Jasmine ignored her. Hamish looked uncomfortable, caught on the back foot, and she had to press while she still could. ‘I realise it was a long time ago, but you worked with these people.’
‘Well, that’s just it,’ Hamish said, slightly exasperated. ‘I didn’t; or at least, I only worked with them very briefly before it all imploded. Following something like that, the aftermath is like a really bad break-up. You’re rather raw and you want nothing to do with anyone who was involved or who even reminds you of it. Before you know it, weeks have turned into months and you’re all on new paths that may never cross again.’
Melanie chose this juncture to remind Hamish once more of theurgency of her made-up crisis, and they both withdrew. Jasmine thanked him for his help and was given a distracted ‘sure’ in return. Most definitely not ‘you’re welcome’.
She watched him disappear through the door towards the stairs and reflected that Dot was right: Hamish Queen was a competent actor, but he wasn’t good enough. He was lying. He knew more than he was saying; much more.
If you’re trying to find Tessa Garrion, then I’m afraid the history of the Glass Shoe Company is unlikely to constitute a rich seam of information.
She’d be the judge of that. So far it was telling her plenty. For one thing, Jasmine never said she waslooking forTessa Garrion. Granted, Hamish could have made this association based on what he knew about Jasmine’s involvement in the Ramsay case, but it was still quite a leap. Why would he assume Tessa couldn’t be found when nobody had said she was missing?
As soon as they were out of sight, she got out her phone and Googled Adam Nolan. Like Hamish, he had survived the wreckage of their failed venture and built a good career for himself. He had joined the RSC in 1983, but the reason Jasmine remembered his name was that he had been in the regular cast ofFirst Do No Harm, a medical drama series from the late eighties, a favourite of her mum’s that Jasmine had watched with her on DVD box sets. The other reason his name had a certain significance was that there was an Aids charity named after him, Adam Nolan having died from the disease in 1993.
Tessa Garrion dropped out of existence shortly after working with Hamish Queen’s fledgling theatre company and the only other name he could give her was someone who died eighteen years ago? Aye, right. That meant there were others, and Jasmine was going to find them.A Shot in the Dark
Ideally, of course, this would turn out to be some kind of freak accident. That was the result everybody wanted. Sure, there would be ramifications for hunting safety and the fall-out would provide soundbite opportunities for those Barbour-clad mutants in the Countryside Alliance, but it was far preferable to a murder hunt. So preferable, in fact, and in so many ways, that Catherine doubted she would be so fortunate.
‘What are the chances this was just bad luck?’ she asked the groundskeeper, as they stood on a perfectly manicured but heavily bloodstained lawn before the mobile gantry that had given so many people a perfect view of the fatality.
The groundskeeper was named Roddy Frail. He was a short man in his fifties, someone she could picture stalking silently through the undergrowth, although the smell of loose tobacco would give him away if he didn’t stay upwind. His hands were rough and callused, conditioned by and to the outdoors, and his fingers were stained by no end of roll-ups. He was used to handling thorny vegetation, but thorny coppers not so much. He looked rattled, the place he’d worked for years suddenly seeming altogether foreign. He had been dragged from sleep and dropped into a milieu far more unfamiliar than that which had confronted any of the Glesca Polis bussed in from the big city.
‘It’s a possibility,’ he conceded with anxious reluctance, like he was going to have to answer for it personally if it turned out to be so. Here was one person who was probably hoping it was murder.
‘A substantial part of the estate’s income is corporate shooting junkets,’ he went on. ‘They pay big money to have exclusive access.’
‘Was there hunting taking place last night?’ Catherine asked dubiously, thinking it really would be this guy’s balls if the answer was yes.
He hit her with a look of apparent consternation that he was being questioned by someone either stupid or quite mad.
‘At night? With a play going on?’
‘Just wondering whether someone ended up somewhere they shouldn’t have been.’
‘Never happen,’ he insisted animatedly. ‘I have very strict safety protocols. There’s no hunting at all during the theatre weeks, never mind by night. The whole place is given over to the plays, every room booked out, so you’ve got people wandering about, exploring, walking woodland trails. See, when people are here to hunt they have the place to themselves. It’s fully escorted, well away from the castle. And I only allow night-time stalking for very experienced hunters, who are very few and far between in this place. Most of the corporate guests barely know one end of a gun from the other when they first get here.’
‘So why is an accident a possibility?’
Frail gave a weary grimace, like some persistent back problem was playing up. He was on uncomfortable ground.
‘The thing is, these corporate guests, they’re not going to come back to the fair if they never win a goldfish, you know? We keep the stocks high, which makes sure they at leastseea deer when you take them out, even if they cannae hit one. But it also makes the estate a honeypot for poachers.’
‘I see. And I take it poachers prefer to work under cover of darkness?’
‘Some are as brazen as you like. They know it’s a big estate, and we cannae be in ten places at once. But some folk get a buzz about hunting in the dark and they kit out for it too. Night-scopes and silencers aren’t unheard of for going after deer without a permit.’
‘Was this a silenced shot?’ she asked Beano.
‘No, ma’am. Everybody heard a bang from back there, in the woods.’
Catherine looked towards the tree line, which was about two hundred yards away, behind the trailer bearing the seats.
‘How close are the game going to be on a night when there’s all this going on?’ she asked Frail. ‘You’ve got a tractor hauling that tiered-seating gantry, music over a PA, dozens of people chattering and applauding, artificial lights flooding the place. I can’t imagine any skittish woodland creatures straying close to the edge of cover with so much human activity going on, nor an experienced poacher taking aim when there was a gathering of people in his field of vision, never mind his field of fire.’
‘I only said it was a possibility. Could have been a ricochet. Could also have been a shot from distance. Some of these rifles are built to take down their prey from a long way off. Some chancer deep in the woods, a kilometre up the slope, could have lined up a shot without realising what was behind it if he missed.’
‘Aye,’ said Catherine, ‘such as a major figure in the world of the arts.’
‘Makes no difference to me who he was,’ said Frail, his eyes wide and bloodshot. ‘I’d never heard of the guy myself. But if this was something I could have prevented …’
He bit his lip, glancing back and forth from the bloodstained turf to the tree line, looking fidgety and confessional.
‘How could you have prevented anything?’ Catherine asked, eyeing him neutrally: neither accusatory nor reassuring.
He sighed, regret and contrition etched as vividly on his face as the nicks and calluses on his fingers.
‘There’s a lot of blind eyes get turned,’ he said. ‘As long as folk don’t kick the arse out of it, sometimes it’s easier to write off a bit of poaching loss than to try and prevent it. People know each other out here, know each other’s business. The point is, I can give you some names, but the local polis are already aware of them. They know which doors to knock. They’ve just never had reason to before.’Just Because You’re Paranoid
Jasmine made it back to the office late afternoon and set about transcribing Hamish Queen’s interview, which she had secretly recorded. In keeping with Jim’s practices, she liked to have a hard copy down in black and white as well as the audio file. Transcribing could be tedious, but it forced a closer examination of what was said, and the act of typing out the words helped commit them to memory. She then backed up both the text document and the recording, after compressing it from wav to mp3 format. Having had the office broken into during the Ramsay case, she had learned not to keep all her eggs in one basket. This had forced her to overcome her assumptions regarding the complexities of using a computer for things other than word processing and web browsing, with the result that she was now au fait with audio and video editing software, and the letters FTP were no longer just something she saw scrawled on bus shelters.
Her work safely copied to two separate remote servers, she was able to clock off for the day, with the rare prospect of a good night out to look forward to. Jasmine’s friend Michelle, who’d been at the SATD with her, had free tickets for Ballet Scotland’s production ofThe Sleeping Beautyat the Theatre Royal. Michelle had been studying dance and now had a job with Ballet Scotland’s community outreach programme Steps Forward. She described it as being ‘where ballet meets social work’, but it was a satin-slippered foot in the door of the company proper. They were planning to meet in town for a bite to eat before heading up to Cowcaddens for the show.
Jasmine never cared much for ballet growing up, and the appreciation she developed of it through her time at the SATD was largely on an intellectual rather than emotional level, but the last time shewent with Michelle she had really enjoyed it. The absence of dialogue and the lack of narrative complexity meant she could switch off parts of her brain that were becoming overtaxed through work, allowing the music and the spectacle to wash over her for a couple of hours. It was almost like a state of meditation and her mind felt much the better for it afterwards.
She had checked the clock as she uploaded the last of the files. Sharp Investigations was based in a two-storey office building in Arden, on a light industrial estate midway between Rouken Glen and the M77. As long as the traffic wasn’t too horrendous, she could make it back to her flat on Victoria Road in about fifteen minutes, leaving her time enough for a quick shower and change before heading into town.
Jasmine glanced in her mirror as she left the car park at the rear of the building and noticed a silver Passat pull away from the kerb just a short distance down the street. Something about it bothered her, though she couldn’t say what. She pulled out on to the main drag of Nitshill Road, heading straight on at the roundabout instead of her normal left as there were temporary traffic lights on Thornliebank Road and she didn’t want to be stuck in a queue for twenty minutes while a crew of workmen got on with the important task of sitting in a van reading the paper. She hung a left at the next roundabout, taking her on to Fenwick Road, which was when she noticed the same Passat two cars behind her.
Harry Deacon had warned her about the onset of paranoia that could come with this job. Spend days at a time following people’s vehicles, becoming familiar with surveillance tactics and pursuit patterns and you could begin to see those tactics and patterns in the behaviour of the cars around you. See the same car behind you after a couple of turns and you could convince yourself you were being tailed, when in fact five out of the next ten cars might make the same turns because they were on the common route towards a particular destination. If the guy in the Passat was going from the industrial estate to the south side or the city centre, wouldn’t he also take Fenwick Road if he knew there were temporary lights on the parallel Thornliebank Road?
Jasmine caught herself rationalising this, and rejected the reassurance her simple explanation was offering. She reminded herself that something had troubled her about that Passat from the moment she saw it, well before she noticed it was still behind her. Harry Deacon’s advice was a useful bulwark against letting the job get too far inside your head, but Jasmine had learned a greater lesson from Glen Fallan: when your mind or your body are telling you to be afraid, you should listen.
Your brain takes in far more information about your environment than you are conscious of it processing, and we frequently ignore danger because we try to rationalise feelings that are not rational but instinctive. We look for explanations for why we feel an irrational anxiety, explanations that always seek to reassure us nothing is wrong, ignoring the fact that, as Fallan put it, ‘the part of your brain that tells you to run because your early-warning system detected a predator or an avalanche was there a lot longer than language and responds a lot more immediately’.
For whatever reason, Jasmine had felt uneasy at the sight of that Passat pulling away behind her, and now it was still on her tail. Her conscious mind was busy looking for reasons why she shouldn’t be worried, a seduction she had learned to resist.
She checked her rear-view again, trying to get a look at who was behind the wheel. It was difficult to see through the moving obstacle of the Mondeo directly behind her. She couldn’t make out a face, just a baseball cap with the visor pulled down low. That alone might have been part of what spooked her.
She slowed down a little, checking her pace so that she would meet a gap in the oncoming traffic just as she reached the junction with Merrycrest Avenue on the right-hand side. She turned without indicating, nipping across the junction before a further convoy of cars barred the route to the Passat. He’d have to wait to turn, and if he did turn it was official: she was being tailed, albeit not by someone who knew how to keep it discreet. Merrycrest Avenue linked Fenwick Road to the parallel Langside Drive, but it was hardly a rat run. The likelihood that he would ‘just happen’ to be going up it was minuscule.
Jasmine accelerated gently, staying under twenty, glancing in the rear-view mirror every few seconds. The near-side traffic heading southbound on Fenwick Road blocked her view of whether the Passat had kept going past the junction, but so far he definitely hadn’t turned into it.
The other thing about irrational reactions, as Fallan had admitted, was that much of the time nothing precipitated from them and you’d seldom discover quite why you’d felt spooked. Nonetheless, these false alarms constituted a modest premium for such a vital insurance policy: when it paid out, the stakes could be very high indeed.
Jasmine hung a left at the end on to Langside Drive, figuring she could follow it all the way around Queen’s Park to where it met Victoria Road, not far from her flat. It occurred to her that this was actually a quite valuable alternative route to have in the bank, her Glasgow geography still very much a work in progress.
She glanced in her mirror as she approached the roundabout at Muirend Road, which was when she saw the silver Passat emerge from Merryburn Avenue two junctions behind her. He had taken a parallel road and reacquired her, waiting for her to pass and then pulling out with two cars’ cover.
She was definitely being tailed and it did look like he knew what he was doing. Now she wasn’t merely a little spooked but genuinely rattled.
He had been waiting for her close to the office. That meant he knew where she worked. At this time of day, from his point of view, the greatest probability was that she was heading home, so that suggested he was trying to find out where she lived. This would double the number of pick-up points he could use for future surveillance, and that was only the most palatable of the reasons he might want to know this.
She had to lose him. She went through the roundabout and proceeded towards the junction with Merrylee Road, where she knew there were traffic lights. They were green as she came in sight. Shewas willing them to turn amber so that she could slow down on the approach then speed through as they changed, with at least one of the two cars between them preventing the Passat from following her. The lights did change, but she was thwarted by the Nissan Micra in front, its white-haired driver braking well before the amber turned to red.
The Micra was just as cautious about getting under way again, showing no signs of movement until the signals were fully green. It was long enough to make most drivers consider a peep on the horn in case the old dear had failed to notice the lights had changed. In Jasmine’s experience, this was often counterproductive as the inevitable fright tended to result in the driver stalling their vehicle in a panicked hurry to get going.
With this thought, she devised a new stratagem for losing her tail. As the Micra finally began to move she allowed the Civic to stall, then feigned an authentically flapping response, turning the ignition with the car in gear to eat up a few more seconds.
She gave an apologetic wave to the driver behind, pretending she was having trouble re-starting the Honda, then when the lights turned amber again she zipped through at speed. The car immediately behind her followed across the junction, but its successor didn’t risk it, leaving the Passat stranded. She sped on, waiting until the junction was out of sight in her rear-view, then turned right on Newlands Road, followed by two lefts. This allowed her to double back along Earlspark Avenue and take a snaking route through a number of quiet residential streets.
As she reached Pollokshaws Road she took a long, careful look to her left before pulling out. There was no sign of the silver Passat, but her relief almost instantly gave way to a depressingly familiar feeling of failure.
She had panicked at the thought of being followed home and in her desperation to lose her tail urgency had triumphed over judgment. She should have pulled a reciprocal: gone all the way around the roundabout at Muirend Road and doubled back to eyeball the bastard. She’d have got his registration and maybe even a look at his face if he wasn’t sharp enough to suss what was going on and get his headdown. Either way, the tail would have ended then and there because he’d know he’d been burned.
Instead, she’d learned nothing about him, meaning she’d be looking over her shoulder from here on in, every glimpse of a silver car putting her on edge.
‘Jasmine screws up,’ she muttered to herself.Collision Course
Not that Jasmine had any real doubt Hamish Queen was holding out on her, but two days later she received hard evidence that firmly resolved the issue, while at the same time posing a number of new questions concerning why he’d be so blatantly lying about this.
It came in the post, the black Companies House logo distinguishing the envelope from the usual pile of paperwork, junk mail and the occasional cheque. She had requested it almost a week ago, well before she’d firmed up a meeting with him, and she had been hoping to receive it before their interview, just in case he claimed to know nothing about the earlier company. At that point she had been reasonably expecting their meeting to yield at least a few more names, if nothing else. Instead, Hamish Queen was claiming that he couldn’t remember the names of anybody involved in the original Glass Shoe, other than the one she had given him – Tessa – and that of an actor who had died in 1993.
To be fair, thirty years was a very long time. How many people might such a successful theatrical producer have worked with over that period? Hundreds, from London to New York, Sydney to Moscow, Tokyo to Paris. It was perfectly conceivable that he couldn’t remember the names of some actors he hired and just as quickly fired without a single play making it to the stage. It was also understandable that this was not an episode he cared to revisit, which would further consign its details to some oubliette of the mind, locked away so as not to rise to the surface unbidden. If those actors had never subsequently made anything of themselves, then it was all the more plausible that their surnames would fade from his memory. Could Jasmine remember the surnames of all the kids she had worked with in youth theatre, or even those of the students she’d performed with at the SATD a mere three years back?
But by the same measure, could Hamish Queenforgetthe name of his partner in setting up his first company, especially when that man had gone on to become head of Arts Council Scotland?
There it was, staring up at her from the desk: the official memorandum and articles of association:
The Glass Shoe Company. Incorporated 18 May 1981.
Managing director: Hamish Queen
Company Secretary: Julian Sanquhar
Jasmine checked online to make sure the document was referring to the same man. There was, understandably, no reference to his being a partner in the short-lived Glass Shoe Company, but Jasmine quickly learned that Julian Sanquhar had enough in common with Hamish Queen to leave no ambiguity. They were born in the same year into wealthy rural land-owning Scottish families – Queen in the Highlands, Sanquhar in Roxburghshire – and had both been educated at Gordonstoun. Queen had gone on to Cambridge to study history, Sanquhar to Oxford to read law, but upon graduation both initially sought careers in theatre. Queen, being of the more extrovert nature, had successfully established himself as a repertory actor, but the reputedly introspective Sanquhar, despite acquitting himself quite capably on stage as an undergraduate, had proven more drawn to meeting administrative rather than thespian challenges.
On paper, and particularly in retrospect, it seemed an ideal pooling of talents: Hamish Queen, the man of grand vision and flamboyant audacity, augmented by Julian Sanquhar, the quietly ambitious facilitator. To Jasmine, this all the more keenly begged the question of what went wrong and, just as pertinently, why Queen was so determinedly lying about it.
Whatever had happened, they didn’t work together again and, in keeping with what Queen told Jasmine, their paths had so seldom crossed thereafter that nobody seemed aware they had once had a professional relationship. No journalist or blogger appeared to have picked up on their Gordonstoun link, but unless you were specifically looking for it you wouldn’t think there was a connection. WhileQueen was raking in the millions putting on his glitzy musicals, Sanquhar was proving adept at making far smaller sums stretch as far as they’d go in a series of positions with regional theatres, arts funding bodies and charities.
He wasn’t always just the man behind the scenes, although he had more of a public voice than public face. Sanquhar was an accomplished radio broadcaster, contributing to coverage of the arts and humanities for both Radio Four and Radio Scotland, with his two documentary series from Afghanistan,Voices of Camp BastionandVoices Beyond Camp Bastion, garnering particularly high accolades. He worked in television also, but didn’t present any of the programmes he had written or produced.
His stock was high at the BBC, and since standing down from his position as head of ACS it was widely believed he was imminently going to be appointed to the BBC Trust. This would be in addition to the various committees, boards and advisory bodies he sat on, all of which made Jasmine less than optimistic about the chances of being granted an audience.
Nonetheless, she left messages with several offices and organisations, requesting an interview. She kept the details vague: she didn’t lie outright and say she was a journalist, but she didn’t say that she was a private investigator either. She received responses spanning a wide spectrum of sincerity, assuring her that her request would be passed on, and made a note to follow up after a reasonable interval of three working days.
To her great surprise Sanquhar got in touch the following morning. No secretaries, no PAs, just the man himself, saying he could talk that afternoon if she could make it to Alloway Kirk, where he’d have some spare time while the crew were setting up shots for a new documentary he was making.
She said she’d be there, expressing her astonishment at both the swiftness of his response and the fact that he’d done so personally.
He laughed at this.
‘Someone once gave me this invaluable piece of advice,’ he said. ‘Never let a piece of paper touch your hand twice. You get a message, you act on it right then or you bin it, because otherwise you’ll wastetime before you end up making the same decision anyway. Plus, when you’re as busy as I like to be, you find that going through intermediaries constitutes an unnecessary doubling of effort.’
Jasmine looked at the pile of paperwork on her desk, wondering how much time she had wasted sifting through the same documents, humming and hawing about how to respond before deferring a decision and putting them back where they were. This was why Julian Sanquhar was head of this and on the board of that while she was struggling to run a one-woman operation.
Driving this point home, she remembered that she already had a job booked for that day, delivering a summons to a particularly elusive subject in Perth. What were the chances she could manage that in time to get down to Ayrshire before Sanquhar wrapped up filming?
It was a Galt Linklater gig; she couldn’t let them down. Not only that, but the big firm were running out of time themselves, which was why they’d brought her in. The subject was an ex-cop who had thus far proven extremely successful at spotting and evading their personnel, and refusing to acknowledge his own identity on the rare occasions they had managed to buttonhole him. He had returned all posted summons papers marked ‘gone away’, and if the client law firm’s papers weren’t served soon they would lose their slot in court.
It wasn’t exactly justice hanging by a thread: the ex-cop was being sued in Sheriff Court by his local council over some dispute Jasmine could barely follow regarding access rights to a disputed thoroughfare abutting his property. However, the details didn’t matter. Galt Linklater paid her a retainer to have first dibs on her services and right now they needed their ninja.
She drove to Perth, reaching the subject’s address just after eleven. Galt Linklater’s Martin Grady, parked further down the street in a surveillance van, had been watching the house since nine and confirmed over the radio that the subject, one Wilson Todd, was definitely home. This was good news: no hanging about waiting – and hoping – for him to show. Jasmine placed the papers under her clipboard and walked confidently up to the front door, ready to snare him with the junk-mail trap. This would be overin moments, then she could get herself down to Alloway by the tail-end of lunchtime.
She tried the doorbell twice, to no avail. Not even a hint of footsteps in the hall or a twitch of curtains to suggest the subject was getting a look at her, which was the usual precursor to the door opening once they had seen harmless young Jasmine and not some burly ex-polis.
She made her way back to the Honda, inquiring of Martin over the radio whether he was definitely sure the guy was home. He just laughed, a welcome-to-my-nightmare cackle.
‘I hope you don’t have dinner plans,’ he added.
She drove around the corner and parked out of sight, then spent an excruciating age waiting for a development, all the time fighting the urge to go back and have a second go. He could have been in the toilet or the shower, she told herself, but these possibilities were being suggested by the part of her that desperately wanted to talk to Julian Sanquhar. The part of her that was on a retainer for Galt Linklater knew that a subject as fly as Todd had almost certainly watched her surreptitiously either as she approached the house or as she left it, and possibly both. At this stage, as far as he knew, she was just some canvasser he hadn’t answered the door to, but if she made a second appearance she was burning herself.
It was after one o’clock when he finally made a move, emerging from the house and very quickly getting into his Freelander. Martin relayed Todd’s position so that Jasmine could stay close, but she wasn’t to join the follow in case she or her vehicle got spotted.
The pursuit lasted a good twenty minutes, Todd going in circles, needlessly back and forth along dual carriageways and around industrial estates before making his way into the car park of a large supermarket close to the football stadium.
‘He’s letting me know he’s aware,’ Martin moaned. ‘He didn’t pull a reciprocal or try to burn me outright: he’s just dicking me about as a means of giving me the finger.’
Jasmine made her way into the car park and picked out the Freelander, reversing into a space where she could keep an eye onTodd’s vehicle. Time kept on trickling away. It was approaching two o’clock. Even if she left this minute she wouldn’t make it to Alloway until around four.
She could hear Sanquhar’s voice on the phone that morning, his words about letting a piece of paper touch his hand only once and the unnecessary doubling of tasks. A black-belt in time management who had spotted a tiny window and offered it to her. What were the chances of a guy like that giving her a second bite?
She saw Todd returning to his vehicle carrying a single shopping bag. In there half an hour and he only had one bag? Bastard. An ex-cop and he knew the score. He was wasting their time because he knew he could. They had no option but to watch and wait. She was going to be here all day, and what was worse was that they weren’t going to get this guy. He returned all mail, never answered his door and never acknowledged his name. The papers had to be delivered in person, and he had to verify his identity.
She watched him close the hatchback of his vehicle and place his solitary bag inside. Then he’d probably sit there, milking it a bit longer before reversing out. She hated this gig, she hated this guy and she hated that ridiculous, oversized vehicle. How could he even see out the back of it with that spare wheel covering the window?
Which was when she saw how to end this. It would come at a cost, but it would get the job done. How much did she want to make it to Alloway, that was the question.
‘Bollocks to it,’ was her answer.
She put the Civic in first and nipped out of the space, then crawled along the lane until she was a car’s width back from where the Freelander would emerge. Its driver was blocked by a solid-walled Escort van from her line of sight – as she was from his.
She kept her feet balanced between the accelerator and the clutch, then picked her moment as the rear of Todd’s vehicle withdrew. The Honda lurched forward and the back of the Freelander crunched into it. Nothing drastic, but hard enough that some panel work was definitely going to be required. As were his insurance details, what with him being the one who had reversed out without spotting a bright red car coming down the lane at his back.
She got out of her car first and had a look, feigning shock and not a little anger as Todd emerged to assess the damage. It wasn’t a bad bash, but as predicted it would take some work; from experience a couple of hundred quid’s worth. For that reason she made damn sure she had his insurance details written down and confirmed before handing him the envelope.Warlocks in the Mirk
Jasmine made it to Alloway for five past four, and as she approached the junction closest to where the kirk sat she was hugely relieved to see a van parked near by, bearing the legend of an independent production company: First Glance Films. She recalled the words of one of her teachers at the SATD, warning them that ‘television filming always expands to fill the time available’. This thought had been at the back of her mind since Perth, but it hadn’t eased her foot from the accelerator.
The Honda had been making that clunking noise again, as well as losing power in low gear. She hoped the dunt from Todd’s Freelander hadn’t shaken something else loose, and she didn’t imagine flooring it for the best part of two hours was doing much for the poor thing’s recuperation. She was here now, though, and crucially so was Julian Sanquhar.
She could see him standing close to the iconic ruin, drinking coffee from a paper cup and chatting to a woman while the film crew worked on setting up a shot among the ancient headstones.
He was shorter than the impression she’d garnered from photographs. She’d imagined a wiry figure, toweringly professorial, but though he was indeed thin he was maybe only five-six or five-seven and slight with it. He had wispy white hair, which was blowing around in the breeze coming in from the Firth of Clyde.
He was dressed in a grey suit with a waistcoat, in a cut that had never been in or out of fashion. To Jasmine it said old money well spent, but not spent on clothes very often.
The woman he was talking to turned her head. Jasmine recognised her as Kirsteen Currie, a former BBC Scotland newsreader who had worked the arts beat in recent years. She was the voice and face ofwhatever was being filmed, Sanquhar presumably the writer or producer, possibly both.
Jasmine had done her homework on him since getting the Glass Shoe information from Companies House. He had said early in his tenure as head of ACS that ‘if I’m not the most complained-about person in Scottish arts circles, then I’m doing it wrong’. On the surface these sounded like the arrogant words of a man who was not afraid of making enemies, but in practice evidenced pragmatic sensibilities and good-humoured humility, two qualities that had served him well throughout his career. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to please everybody when it was his hands on the purse strings, but he had been the one looking for – and often denied – a hand-out from the arts budget plenty of times in the past, so he understood the frustrations.
‘Begging is good for the soul,’ was one of his quotes on the matter.
For those less inclined to be as philosophical as he had been upon having a funding application turned down, his surname offered an obvious rhyming outlet for their frustrations, but the nickname that seemed to have stuck was ‘Saint Julian’. Jasmine remembered hearing it from lecturers at the SATD, and had at first assumed it was in reference to his renowned but seldom stated religious beliefs. He was known to be deeply – but just as privately – devout in his Catholicism, his faith being a personal matter about which he was neither outspoken nor inclined to bring into his public life in any way.
However, upon researching his career in more detail Jasmine came to discover that the real origin of his moniker was in affectionate and grateful tribute to his ‘working miracles’ in sourcing and stretching funds for theatre companies and other arts projects. He was said to be selfless, dedicated and utterly committed wherever he had worked, so perhaps the large quantity of goodwill he had carried into his ACS chairmanship meant he didn’t get complained about as much as some of his predecessors.
Naturally, he wasn’t without his detractors, even among those acknowledging their gratitude. He was praised for his efficiency, his diligence and in particular his resoluteness: his ability to make adecision quickly and to stick by it. However, this last was something of a double-edged sword, as he was criticised for being both impulsive and reluctant to admit when he’d screwed up. Most of the time, his forward planning was his strength, but one former ACS colleague warned that he was ‘highly skilled at retro-engineering his logic to justify decisions made on the spur of the moment’.
On the whole, though, his tenure at ACS had been uncontroversial, and that was arguably the greatest compliment that could be paid to whoever held his post.
Jasmine approached on quiet feet, walking briskly but not wishing to appear too hurried. Sanquhar noticed her at around the same time as one of the production crew, who was about to intercept her when he got a wave from the boss to acknowledge that her presence was expected. Jasmine felt a measure of relief that Sanquhar had remembered she was coming, as she imagined that by the end of a day’s filming, arrangements made first thing that morning could have long since dropped off the call sheet. It certainly felt more than just a matter of hours since they’d spoken on the phone, her beloved Civic bearing the scars of a long day.
Sanquhar broke off with an apologetic gesture to Kirsteen Currie and turned to greet her. It didn’t do a great deal for Jasmine’s composure to witness this woman she had grown up seeing on television every evening not only in the flesh a few yards away but effectively being put on hold.
‘You must be Jasmine Sharp,’ Sanquhar said, offering a hand.
‘That’s me,’ she responded self-consciously. ‘I’m sorry to interrupt,’ she added, addressing Currie.
‘Not at all,’ said the presenter. ‘Kirsteen Currie. Nice to meet you.’
It was very disconcerting to have a Scottish household name introduce herself like everyone who saw her didn’t already know. Jasmine was lost for a response that wouldn’t have her still cringing in a decade and so opted for a handshake and a mumbled ‘hi’.
‘I’ll keep out of the way until you’ve got five minutes,’ Jasmine assured Sanquhar. ‘Or, well, as long as you can spare.’
‘Oh, I can spare plenty right now,’ he responded. ‘I was the one keeping Kirsteen company while they set up this next shot. We cantake a wander along the road to the hotel there and grab a cuppa, if you like.’
Jasmine glanced at the cup already in his hand and he caught her looking.
‘Don’t worry about that. It’s instant muck. Great excuse to pour it away.’
‘If it’s all the same, I’m all right out here. I’ve been driving and I could use the fresh air.’
Currie gave a chuckle.
‘I think Julian was just looking for an excuse to take a walk. He could stand and talk Burns with me all day, but I’m sure he’d rather not be doing so in a graveyard, even this graveyard. Maybe especially this graveyard. We’re all very grateful for his stoicism thus far. The poor dear won’t be sleeping tonight after this. Can’t handle the “warlocks and witches in a dance”, can you, Jules?’
‘I’d prefer the banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon, it would be fair to say,’ he said with a thin smile, indicating that Currie’s was not an idle observation but something of a barb.
It took Jasmine a moment to grasp what she was alluding to. She had read the single interview in which Sanquhar had been less circumspect about his religious beliefs, or rather one aspect in particular. He had never been known to wear his faith as a badge, to paint himself as pious or to indulge in moral pontificating, so it seemed unfair to Jasmine that these few remarks had occasionally been cast up out of context. Perhaps his more typical reticence with regard to his religion meant that there wasn’t a deluge of more bland and mundane bread-and-butter Christian platitudes in which to dilute them, or perhaps it was just one of those issues that was always going to attract attention.
He had said he believed in the devil: not as a generic catch-all term for human wickedness, but as an entity.
‘Catholic doctrine states that Satan exists as a person,’ he told an interviewer for theSunday Times. ‘And I hold that to be true. I don’t believe in some figure of medieval wood carvings with cloven hooves and horns, and not as what you or I would recognise as an individual, corporeal being, but a form of consciousness nonetheless. An agency.Something that moves within this world. It’s not a fashionable thing to say, and that is why I suspect more people believe it than would own up to it, but you go and ask the soldiers who were in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in Rwanda. They’ll tell you there are evils in this world greater than man.’
It had been in the course of a broadly philosophical discussion about the nature of evil, but the background tended to be left out whenever someone brought it up by way of a cheap dig, trying to make Sanquhar look like a nutter. It struck Jasmine that it would be enormously bad form on Currie’s part to be doing so in front of a stranger, even if she and Sanquhar happened to be old friends. Thus she reasoned that Currie’s remarks were more likely in reference to the one genuine storm that had blown up during Sanquhar’s time as ACS chair.
During her research Jasmine had browsed dozens of news stories and amid the usual exchanges about funding decisions and the predictable jousts arising from arts-world personality politics, the only controversy worth mentioning had arisen over the film body Screen Scotland.
There was always an ongoing debate about whether public money should assist more artistically adventurous films that otherwise wouldn’t stand a chance of getting made, or whether the funding would be better spent investing in more commercially viable projects that would showcase Scottish talent, locations and facilities as well as earning its keep at the box office. Every so often this would come to a head, usually when a disproportionately large share was awarded to a single commercial movie (the complaint being that it would have got made anyway) or when it transpired that the cash had been spread thinly across a number of more worthy projects, none of which had subsequently made it out of development. On this occasion the issue blew up because of Screen Scotland’s decisionnotto award any support to a particular project, and the subsequent leaked revelation that Sanquhar had brought personal pressure to bear in the decision-making process.
Making it all the more juicy, from a media point of view, was that the project concerned was a horror film, and therefore battle wasjoined with all the vehemence and over-statement that journalists seemed to reserve exclusively for things that didn’t matter very much.
There was a broad debate about the morality of presenting violence – and in particular the horror genre – as entertainment, with the outcry from the right-wing tabloids against public money being spent on it rendered no less shrill by being utterly moot. More soberly, in the broadsheet arts pages the spotlight was focused upon Sanquhar’s hand in the veto and whether his personal prejudice or even individual taste had played an inappropriate role. This largely derived from Sanquhar being on record regarding his profound dislike for horror cinema, amid reports that he had always been very squeamish about both violence and sex on screen.
‘I am not so naïve, like Keats’s Grecian urn, as to believe beauty is truth and truth beauty,’ he had once said. ‘If art is about truth, then art must necessarily reflect ugliness. But my problem with even the very idea of these films is that they tradeonlyin ugliness. Ugly images, ugly emotions, ugly sentiments and, of course, very ugly acts. One can’t help but conclude that such works can only inspire ugly thoughts and ultimately inculcate ugly attitudes.’
The film-maker whose application sparked the controversy was Russell Darius, a famously reclusive horror director whose media shyness would not have been much ameliorated by this particular storm. He restricted his response to a few well-chosen remarks that struck Jasmine as being ostensibly magnanimous but disguised an incendiary intended to ignite a different debate.
‘I do not believe Julian Sanquhar acted outwith his remit,’ he said in a written statement, ‘and I do not believe he was motivated by prudery, by religious belief or by the desire to avoid the political fall-out from publicly funding a horror film. I also do not believe he has ever actually watched a horror movie all the way through. This wasn’t a decision based upon moral concerns, but based upon artistic elitism.’
And with that, the consensus was that Darius had truly hit the mark.
‘Why don’t we take a wee dawdle anyway,’ Sanquhar suggested. ‘So that our chit-chat doesn’t pollute Kirsteen’s delivery.’
Kirsteen put her hands up briefly in a gesture of benevolently taking her leave. It was only as she turned away that Jasmine realised the presenter was effectively being dismissed, and for the second time. Saint Julian was a well liked and gentle natured man, but it was a timely reminder that he was also a powerful one.
His voice was soft, his tones mellow: not one accustomed to oratory, but nonetheless accustomed to being listened to. She recalled the advice of a lecturer on the importance of dynamic range and the power that lay at both ends of the spectrum: ‘In the words of the late, great Bill Shankly, if you want people to listen, speak softly.’ Jasmine had remained under the impression that Shankly had been an influential theatre director until catching ten minutes of a documentary a few months back.
Sanquhar’s accent was very similar to Hamish Queen’s. They had hailed from opposite ends of Scotland but neither was going to be taken for a Glaswegian or a Leither any time soon. Nonetheless, there was something charming about the way he tarried over the words ‘wee dawdle’, like they were a treat on his tongue, savoured like a sneaky bite of deep-fried Mars bar in a health-food restaurant.
As they walked through the ancient churchyard in the watery afternoon sunshine it struck Jasmine that he hadn’t asked her what she wanted or whether she was with a particular paper or magazine. It made her appreciate that he was very used to interviews and consultations, and was perhaps ready with some one-size-fits-all answers. On the plus side, she had him to herself: no PA hovering around to pull him away if the going got tough.
‘I’d like to ask you about the Glass Shoe Company,’ she said, trying to disguise her scrutiny of his reaction.
He didn’t miss a beat.
‘In that case, it’s a good thing you said no to coffee. I’d have covered all there is to know before we made it to the Brig o’ Doon hotel.’
‘I realise it was a short-lived venture, but that in itself poses some questions. You and Hamish Queen, that’s quite a combined pedigree. Yes, you were both young and inexperienced, but on paper it musthave looked a formidable prospect. What brought you together? What was your shared goal? Why didn’t it work out?’
Sanquhar gave a flustered but friendly sigh.
‘That’s a lot of questions. In response to the last I’ll just say it’s unanswerable, because even in retrospect it’s impossible to pick apart what went wrong in theatrical ventures. I could just scream out: “It was everybody else’s fault” and that would be authentically luvvie, wouldn’t it?’
He gave a wry smile and cast an eye back towards the church ruin, where Kirsteen was now talking to the sound engineer.
‘Hamish and I met at school, at Gordonstoun. It would sound terribly precious to say that our common love of theatre forged a bond between us, but I’m not sure that our common love bonded us as much as our common disdain. Unlike most of our peers, we didn’t much care for rugby and nor did we fancy ourselves as chancellor of the exchequer, head of a multinational or dictator of a small republic.
‘We went our separate ways after school: he to Cambridge, myself to Oxford, but we kept in touch. I acted a bit at college and didn’t do too badly, I’m told, but frankly I was always terrified. It really is a lot scarier than it looks, which nobody can understand unless they’ve tried it. Have you ever …?’
‘I trained at the SATD, but didn’t finish.’
‘Oh really? Why not?’
‘My mother … she was ill, and she died.’
‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry.’
‘She was an actress too,’ Jasmine added, hurrying past this. ‘Before I came along.’
‘So if it’s in the family, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Scary stuff, but I loved being part of the shows. In college productions I loved the mucking in, the business of everybody having a dozen different jobs.’
‘Less so a dozen different parts,’ Jasmine suggested.
‘Quite. That was actually worse than a lead role. When you’re five different spear-carriers as well as an old woman it’s like juggling knives. But they were good times. Great times. That’s why I was always drawn to working with smaller companies, regional theatres.There’s a strong sense of shared purpose and the ever-present excitement of flying by the seat of your pants. One might also call it the ever-present threat of imminent disaster, but there’s no thrill where there’s no danger. That’s why I was tempted by Hamish’s proposal.’
‘He came to you?’
‘Yes. Hamish is originally from the Highlands, as you may know. The summer before he left for Cambridge he saw 7:84 touring John McGrath’s playThe Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oilwhen it came to Balnavon, the village closest to his family’s estate. They performed it in the church hall and it made an enormous impression on him.’
‘Politically?’ Jasmine asked, aware of the play’s history.
‘To some extent, yes. I think it taught him a perspective upon his native Highlands that he’d never got from the family hearth and certainly not at Gordonstoun. But its true impact on Hamish was theatrical: the way it engaged with audiences right there in the heart of their communities. It didn’t just bring the play to them, it brought them into the play, joining in the songs, reminding them that as Highlanders it was their story.’
‘Did you see it too?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Only on television:Play for Today. I didn’t experience what Hamish did, but at least it meant I understood what he was so enthused about. From then on he kept talking about these two elements that had stuck with him: making theatre come alive for an audience and producing plays that were about modern Scotland.’
‘Hence the name Glass Shoe,’ Jasmine said, allowing him to skip a few pages.
‘Indeed,’ he replied, fixing her with a scrutinising stare, seeming both impressed that she knew this and a little wary. They were at the eastern boundary of the graveyard, as far from the kirk as the grounds extended, and he really wouldn’t have a quick rescue if the conversation took an awkward turn.
‘The problem was that Hamish was not what one would describe as politically literate, never mind politically driven. He understood spectacle and emotion: that’s what had truly grabbed him about seeing 7:84. But the ideological motivation that was so clear andpassionate in someone like McGrath became really just a woolly mix of duty and good intention in Hamish’s case.’
‘A kind of liberal guilt?’
‘A little, yes. All the agitprop gusto that had initially energised him soon became a rather nagging sense of obligation. When we talked about starting our own touring company, one of my first tasks was to make him accept that although he’d been inspired by 7:84, and might feel he owed certain debts, in truth he didn’t want tobe7:84. Yes, he wanted to make theatre come alive for audiences in places like Balnavon church hall, but he was more aesthete than activist and I had to make him accept how that was okay.’
‘Hence Shakespeare instead of agitprop. Albeit Scottish and Highland-set.’
‘Well, the great thing about the Bard is that it always saves on paying a playwright. I think it was me who suggested it, just as a for-instance, to help re-focus Hamish’s vision. He seized upon it and from there on in we fairly fired each other up.’
He leaned back against a headstone and gave a self-deprecatory grin.
‘Oh, we set the theatre world to rights in a few pubs, let me tell you. Ranting to each other about how patronising it was to suggest that these village halls would only respond to leftist rabble-rousing. We firmly believed there was an audience there who would come out for fresh, lively, exciting theatre. Get the right players together, talented actors who could share our passion, and we’d play a different church hall or community centre each night for months, then on the back of that we’d have longer runs in the cities, garnering plaudits and filling the coffers to fund the next production.
‘When I say we believed, I mean we really believed, and we put our money where our mouths were. I gave up a position with a company in Leeds, Hamish walked away from the Pantechnicon and we both put in a stake. I was happy to because it was that college thing again: everybody mucking in, doing everything from painting flats to selling tickets on the door.’
Sanquhar looked away, beyond the church to somewhere much further away. He had this strange look of remembered optimism andregret. Jasmine waited for him to resume, but his focus remained momentarily elsewhere.
‘So what went wrong?’ she prompted. ‘It’s my understanding that the company imploded during rehearsals for its first production. Was the chemistry wrong somehow? Clashes of personalities? Artistic incompatibilities?’
She was hoping to edge him towards discussion of the personnel but, mindful of Hamish Queen’s lies and evasion, she was treading lightly lest the shutters come down.
‘It wouldn’t be healthy to apportion blame. It’s all too far back and we’ve all lived long lives since. We were all culpable in our own different ways.’
‘That sounds like a politician’s answer.’
‘As it should. I’ve been a politician of sorts my whole career. The only difference is that in the arts you have to be twice as delicate.’
‘Yes, but when a politician says something like that it just makes it all the more obvious that there’s something else he’s not saying. What happened in rehearsals?’
‘All the things you said: the wrong chemistry, personality clashes, artistic incompatibilities.’
As Sanquhar spoke, he was gazing east towards the sea: looking to his right, where Uncle Jim said your eyes strayed when you were lying. She’d trod lightly and the shutters had come down anyway. Time to be more direct.
‘When I asked Hamish Queen about this he claimed he could only remember the names of two of the people involved, and yours wasn’t one of them. I only learned you were partners from Glass Shoe’s official records at Companies House.’
She watched for a response and got it. He looked back at her sharply: not exactly reeling, but there was a hardening of his expression.
‘I think that level of obfuscation indicates we’re talking about more than just a few luvvie tantrums. And your own reluctance to apportion blame suggests to me that there’s someone youwouldapportion it to if you weren’t being “delicate”.’
He stood up straight, taking his weight from the headstone. Jasmine thought he might be about to storm off, and she wondered whether this would be the moment he demanded to know who she was with and what was her angle.
He stared past her, back towards the auld kirk, but he wasn’t signalling for rescue. It was as though he could see something there other than the production crew, something that was making him very uncomfortable.
‘I know why you’re here, Miss Sharp,’ he stated, his tone still soft but an underlying edge to it. ‘You’re looking for Tessa Garrion. Hamish told me. He was on the phone as soon as he’d finished talking to you.’
So that was why he hadn’t inquired in any depth about who she was: he already knew.
‘Well, I’m glad we’ve got our cards out on the table. Here’s an odd thing though, Mr Sanquhar. I never told Hamish Queen that I was looking for Tessa Garrion. I only said I was delving into her past. Why would he think she was missing?’
He stared at the kirk again, then back at Jasmine. No glance to the right.
‘The same reason as our little enterprise imploded. She walked out during rehearsals and none of us ever heard from her again.’
‘And was she the individual you’re delicatelynotblaming?’
‘No, most definitely not. None of us were blameless, though if anyone came closest to that distinction it was Tessa. But you’re right: it wasn’t arguments and tantrums that drove her away.’
‘If I was going to give you another politician’s answer, I’d say lack of professionalism, but as you’re being paid to look into this in depth, you ought to know the true nature of what you’re dealing with.’
He glanced again towards the ruin and the ancient graveyard before it. It was as though he was afraid of being jumped by an assailant hidden behind one of the headstones.
‘I have a reputation – I would say an unfair reputation – in certain circles for being something of a prude. I’m no fool: I’m aware the Saint Julian nickname isn’t always intended generously. I don’t geton my soapbox, but there are things I disapprove of, and I do so because I’ve seen them in extremis. When we rehearsed our ill-starred first play we did so at Hamish’s estate. His family were abroad for a month so we had the run of the place.’
A glowering darkness came over his face, mixing distaste with genuine anger.
‘These were not teenagers overdosing on the unaccustomed freedom of their parents being gone for the weekend. We were all grown adults, twenty-four, twenty-three at the youngest. This wasn’t letting your hair down. This was letting something else in.’
The anger in him seemed to choke his voice and he fell silent.
‘What are we talking here,’ Jasmine prompted. ‘Booze, drugs … orgies?’
He shot her an impatient look: she really wasn’t getting it.
‘William Blake said the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, which is true if you’re sixteen years old and have woken up with a chastening hangover the morning after raiding your father’s drinks cabinet. On the road of excess this wretched company was walking, there may well have been a palace of wisdom at the end but there were many crossroads to be negotiated and we were always travelling at midnight. Do you know what is said to wait at the crossroads at midnight?’
‘No,’ Jasmine confessed.
‘Do you know where you are, Miss Sharp?’
That edge to his voice was hardening, like he was aware of a threat and not from her.
‘I mean, do you understand why we’re filming Kirsteen here?’
She nodded, and realised she knew also what he was alluding to regarding the crossroads myth.
‘“A winnock-bunker in the east,”’ she quoted, casting her eyes to the very spot. ‘“There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast.”’
Sanquhar nodded approvingly, though his expression didn’t brighten any.
‘Are you suggesting there was some kind of ritualism going on?’ she asked, trying to keep incredulity from sounding like outright scorn.
‘I was once less circumspect than I ought to have been regarding certain of my views,’ he replied, demonstrating that she’d failed. ‘What I was trying to convey is not something that is easy for people to understand. It’s far easier to caricature what I was alluding to, because then it can be more easily dismissed: a cloven-hoofed devil with horns and a pitchfork is clearly absurd, so we don’t need to be afraid of it. But it was what I witnessed at Kildrachan House that made me believe there is something that feeds off the worst in men and further emboldens them. When there is a wanton will in man to seek the darkness, then there is something out there that listens, and it whispers back.’
Sanquhar’s voice was low and dry, his eyes unblinking in the intensity of their stare. She recalled the unsensational tone of theSunday Timesarticle, the interviewer not sharing Sanquhar’s belief but in no doubt about his conviction. Then, as now, he was said to seem genuinely afraid of whatever had inspired it.
‘Tessa left because she was disgusted – and not a little scared, I should imagine. It’s small wonder she never got back in touch with any of us.’
‘But what actually happened? What kind of things are you talking about?’
He shook his head once, the gesture all the more final for its brevity.
‘These are not memories I care to revisit. And you should understand that nobody else will either.’
Jasmine let out a small, measured sigh of frustration, less than she felt but precisely as much as she wished to convey.
‘Do you at least recall the names of the people you’re talking about, or are you going to lie to me like Hamish Queen did?’
‘No,’ he replied, sounding slightly impugned. ‘I won’t lie. How could I forget? But the names wouldn’t do you much good. Hamish didn’t only phone me after your visit, he called the others too. They know about you. They’re not going to return your calls.’
‘You did,’ she pointed out.
‘I considered it a matter of conscience.’
‘I don’t follow.’
‘I have a daughter not much older than you, and the thought of her doing what you are right now made me shudder.’
‘I’m just asking people questions, Mr Sanquhar.’
‘People with lives and reputations. People who will not forgive you for opening Pandora’s Box. I don’t know where Tessa Garrion went after she bailed out, but trust me on this: you won’t find her by raking through the rubble of the Glass Shoe Company. You will only succeed in disturbing a great deal of long-buried hurt and shame, but what worries me is that you might awaken something worse.’
‘I don’t believe in the devil, Mr Sanquhar.’
‘Nor did I, before the summer of eighty-one.’
‘I’ll take my chances. Give me the names. Who was in the company, apart from Tessa, Hamish and Adam Nolan?’
Sanquhar sighed with bad grace.
‘Finlay Weir. He didn’t have much of an acting career after that. I think he’s a schoolteacher now. Maybe even a headmaster.’
Sanquhar paused, as though hoping his silence might be misinterpreted as the end of a very short list.
Jasmine’s eyes widened involuntarily.
‘Murray Maxwell? As inDarroch Glen? As inRaintown Blue?’
‘And as in currently head of drama at Scotia Television, yes.’
‘Well, I can really see why that one slipped Hamish’s mind. Any more?’
Sanquhar swallowed, as if his mouth had gone dry. When he spoke, it was clear that if the words ‘wee dawdle’ had been savoured as a treat, then these were shrivelling his lips like gall.
Jasmine concealed her reaction behind a further, redundant inquiry.
‘No other women?’
‘There aren’t many female parts inMacbeth, and Tessa was very versatile. We didn’t need anyone else.’
‘So you’re not superstitious?’ she asked, as he hadn’t substituted the name of the play.
‘I told you, I’m not some religious nutcase. In my experience, the supposed curse aroundMacbethis largely a self-fulfilling prophecy. One I fear we fell victim to. People fixate upon it when they have a self-destructive wish, seeking out darkness within themselves, perhaps hoping to confront it, to defeat it. Instead, it consumes them.’Requiem for a Saint
Sir Angus McCready, head of his clan and laird of Cragruthes Castle, didn’t look to Catherine like a man big enough or right then strong enough to bear so much nomenclature. He was huddled in an armchair in his private study, looking for all the world like a lost wee boy. The chair itself seemed too big for him, his feet not touching the carpet, but that was because he was withdrawn into it as far as he would fit.
Catherine was unsure whether this body language indicated merely his state of shock or his revulsion from her as the head of the police investigation. He had looked like his mammy was leaving him with a cold stranger when Sergeant Jim Wheaton, the local officer Laura had mentioned, had withdrawn at Catherine’s request.
He enjoyed the brief reassurance of a familiar face as his housekeeper brought them both tea and a couple of scones. She urged the laird to take one and chided him for not having eaten anything at all today, like he was just being stubborn. Catherine guessed he wouldn’t be hungry for a good while yet.
The study was a rectangular space tucked away behind a more modest door than any of the big public rooms: definitely Sir Angus’s personal hidey-hole, though still a good deal more grand than the average den. No dartboard, retro arcade games or pinball machines (and no need for a pool table when there was a slate-bed twelve-footer in a dedicated billiards room elsewhere in the castle). The only modern touch was a micro hi-fi system next to a stack of largely classical CDs. Other than that, his personal pleasures ran mostly to the literary. There were large walnut bookcases on two of the walls, and an antique writing desk tucked in a corner. The shelves were not lined with leather-bound reference tomes or collector’s editions, but well-thumbed and spine-broken volumes:books read and re-read. Many of them, she noticed, were about theatre.
It looked like it ought to be cosy but Catherine felt cold, and there was a fusty smell about the place. There was only one tiny window in the room and just one little radiator which she guessed wasn’t switched on. It was probably warmer outdoors, where the sun was burning through the morning’s misty clouds. It made her think of the house where she grew up, her parents refusing to turn on the heating if the sun was in the sky, their decisions governed by the calendar rather than the thermostat. Sir Angus looked better dressed for it, swaddled in an ancient tweed jacket, its material so thick it probably bent the coat-hook if you hung it up wet.
Where the study’s walls were not lined with books they were decorated with framed photographs, again a sign of this being the laird’s retreat: these were mementos for personal regard, unlike the paintings adorning so many of the castle’s other interior walls. A cluster to Catherine’s left showed black-and-white images from plays: individuals captured in expressive postures that identified them as stage shots, as opposed to movie stills or family snaps. It took her a few seconds to realise that they all showed her host as a wiry adolescent, handsome and vivacious in youth, all limbs and energy.
A caption mentioned Oxford. It had been a long, long time ago.
Another row of far more recent frames bore colour images of Sir Angus posing with an assembled theatre cast, his tartan trews distinguishing him from their Shakespearean garb. Once she had scanned a few Catherine saw through the make-up and costumes to recognise that he was standing with largely the same people, the same cast, and in most he was grinning alongside the same non-performer: the one whose final act had been to pose for just such a photo the night before.
She wondered what was the connection that would make someone from the highest echelons of the arts come back over and over to watch some group of teuchter am-drams.
‘I gather he was your guest last night,’ she said, indicating one of the colour stills. She reckoned it a delicate way to broach thesubject: hark back to happier times, avoid mentioning the name too soon. ‘As opposed to the bank’s.’
He glanced across at the photos and visibly winced. Maybe not that delicate, then.
‘Yes,’ he managed, swallowing. ‘Partly, at least. He was my guest, but he was also the guest of the players, in acknowledgment of his efforts in keeping them funded over the years. Not so much patron as patron saint.’
‘So they’re a professional company?’
He looked at her for a moment as though she had asked him the question in a foreign language, or that he was baffled as to the relevance. She recognised the condition: he was baffled as to the relevance ofanything, given the way his world had just been turned inside out. She was about to reiterate when he seemed to gather himself and managed to answer.
‘Ehm, no,’ he began distractedly, like he couldn’t believe he was talking about it, couldn’t believe he was talking about anything. Then he began to expand, as though finding unexpected solace in doing so. After that kind of shock Catherine had often seen people put themselves together again only very slowly, and sometimes it appeared as though they were surprised to discover each function that still worked. ‘More accomplished than your average amateur-dramatics society – mostly down to Eric and Veejay, I think – but not professionals.’
‘But presumably you pay them for their performances here?’
Again that look: ‘what the hell does this have to do with anything?’ and again as he answered he found something in the distraction.
‘I do, yes. Eight hundred pounds per show this year. That’s a lot more than when it all started, but given what it brings in I don’t quibble.’
‘Yes, I heard you charge five hundred pounds a head. Thirty-six seats minus you and your guest. That’s what, seventeen grand? Must help pay the bills.’
He nodded blankly, thoughts somewhere else again.
‘Cragruthes has been in my family for close to four hundred years,’ he said, his voice so quiet it seemed to be coming from far insidehim. ‘Posterity carries with it a burden of duty. A place like this can’t be preserved in aspic, but preserved it must be, so it has to pay for itself, which is not always easy. I inherited when I was just twenty-three, when my father died.’
He glanced at the black-and-whites with an apologetic sadness.
‘Managing an estate was a far cry from what I imagined myself doing, but when it comes to duty I appreciate I got off lighter than most. There have been a few ill-starred attempts to bring in revenue over the years, but you’ve got to try new things because you just never know what’s going to work. Or rather,Inever know what’s going to work.’
He managed a self-deprecatory smile, but it only lasted a moment before being enveloped in sadness again.
Catherine looked away, giving him respite from her gaze, taking another scan of her surroundings. Up close everything looked a little tatty, care-worn and frayed at the edges. As he shifted in the armchair she caught another waft of fustiness and deduced that his jacket was the source of the smell. It probably cost a fortune twenty years ago, and may not have been dry-cleaned since. Surely he had others, though. Perhaps it was his favourite, a garment he wore for physical reassurance. He certainly looked in need of comfort.
‘They approached me with the idea for the moonlit plays back in 2003. Did you meet Veejay Khan and Eric Watt?’
Catherine had seen the still-shaken troupe of performers sitting together in one of the public rooms but hadn’t spoken to any of them individually or caught any names. There was an Indian-looking woman among them, but Catherine had thought Veejay was a male name.
‘Not yet, but I will. We’ll be speaking to everyone in time. Are they in charge of the company?’
‘In so far as anyone is in charge. They’re not terribly official about anything; that’s theatre for you. Eric cooks the books but Veejay is the one who whips the cast into shape. They came to me about ten years ago with the notion of stagingA Midsummer Night’s Dreamin the grounds. They knew I was an enthusiast as I had come along to a few of their plays at the Ardnabruich village hall,and I’d often caught further performances of the same pieces up in Fort William.
‘Of course, I thought it was a lovely idea. Initially they put on just the three shows for local audiences, plus a coachload one night from Fort William. But then towards the end of the same week, I had a corporate booking for what was supposed to be a seminar followed by dinner. I thought to myself, why don’t we have dinner and a play?’
He glanced towards the shots of him with the players, then closed his eyes and shook his head. Catherine could see what was going through his mind. He had loved the plays, and not just for the money, but evidently what he was contemplating was that had it never been set in motion, then what happened last night would never have come to pass. Or maybe he was wondering if he’d ever see such performances again.
Either way, it seemed an appropriate juncture to steer the conversation around to the subject of who was really to blame.
‘Sir Angus, as you may be aware, we have told the media that we have not ruled out the possibility that this was an accident.’
He straightened a little in his chair, something resembling optimism suddenly legible in his features.
‘Yes, so I gather. Have you found any …’
‘The truth is, we have no grounds at this stage to rule it in either. So unless and until I receive very strong evidence to the contrary, I am going to proceed upon the assumption that this was murder. I realise this is difficult, but can you think of anyone with a motive, anyone who might have had reason to wish—’
‘No,’ he interrupted, insistent, appalled. It wasn’t just an answer, it was a denial of the reality of what she was suggesting. It was a final futile attempt to shore up the internal defences that had been all but demolished the night before.
‘Why would anyone?’ he asked in disbelief. ‘Howcouldanyone? Do you know who this man was? Have you any idea of his contribution to the arts world and beyond? The projects he’s made possible, how many people he’s helped?’
‘Nonetheless, he moved in a world where there can be a lot of jealousy, a lot of resentment.’
‘It must have come with his job, that he’s had to say no to a few people who didn’t want to hear it, but …’ He sighed. ‘No. Just no.’
Catherine wasn’t expecting to hear much of a response to that one. She was really just forcing him to confront the ugly idea by way of preparation before she sprung something worse.
‘Sir Angus, I realise this is very disturbing to consider, but what happened last night involved a shot from distance in the dark. If you are so certain that nobody could have had a motivation for harming your guest, I therefore have to ask whether it’s possible the gunman could actually have been aiming at you?’Burned
Jasmine had plenty to mull over on the drive back up through Ayrshire, her thoughts on the journey down having been dominated by the single question of whether she’d get there before Sanquhar left, occasionally interspersed with a moment’s anxiety about whether her urgency was making a lasting impression on the average-speed cameras. She turned off the stereo so that she’d have peace to think, then turned it on again a couple of miles later because the clunking noise was back, and whenever she could hear it she couldn’t think about anything else.
Her reflections were also derailed by the sight of a silver Passat in her rear-view mirror, spotted slotting into a gap three cars behind as it exited the fast lane. There were too many vehicles between it and the Civic for Jasmine to get a good look, but she had no doubts over the make and model. She thought about pulling out into the fast lane to see whether it followed, but between the yellow vultures monitoring her speed and the clunking sound beneath the bonnet she decided it wasn’t a viable option.
Jasmine was approaching the big roundabout where the roads to Ayr, Prestwick and Kilmarnock converged, so she decided it would be wisest to defer any manoeuvres until she was sure the Passat was taking the same route. She was held at the lights on the roundabout and the curve of the approaching traffic allowed her to confirm that the Volkswagen was in the same lane, still three cars back.
Flooring it was even less of an option now. The first few miles of the Kilmarnock road were restricted to fifty miles an hour, still enforced by the average-speed cameras. People didn’t take chances with those things, not even the boy racers in their souped-up ned-mobiles. So if no one was going to speed up, her only option was to slow down.
She dropped to forty, then let the needle creep further anticlockwise until it was approaching thirty-five. Nobody was going to tolerate that pace driving anything other than a tractor, or maybe a Micra. The Passat was going to have to pass or make its intentions obvious and either way she was going to get a look at the driver, as overtaking was a slow process when you were limited to fifty miles an hour.
She glanced back and saw the Saab immediately behind her begin to indicate, waiting for an opportunity to pull out. When a space appeared, it swung right, followed by as many preceding cars as could fit themselves in before an approaching lorry closed the gap.
Jasmine held her pace steady and kept her eyes front, flitting between the road and the mirror. In her peripheral vision she was aware of a few turned heads in the passing vehicles, as their drivers sought a look at what idiot had been pootling along so unnecessarily slowly. She hoped she lived up to all their prejudices. Then, finally, the Passat was pulling alongside.
Jasmine stepped a little harder on the accelerator, upping the speed to prolong the time spent side by side, and this time it was the slower driver who turned her head to get a look at the passing motorist.
She saw a blonde-haired woman, mid-thirties, eyes on the road, head swaying and mouth wide as she sang a song, presumably for the benefit of the two toddlers perched in child seats in the back. The blonde woman was the only driver in the overtaking convoy who didn’t turn and look at her like she was an idiot, something Jasmine considered profoundly ironic.
At least this particular panic had been precipitated by a Passat, rather than merely a silver car. That was progress but she needed to let it go, and not react until there was something to react to.
In the days since she was followed the truth was that she hadn’t spotted anything further to be genuinely suspicious of. She’d seen a hundred silver vehicles and been wary of all of them, but that wasn’t vigilance, that was paranoia, and it was potentially counterproductive. With her so hung up on this silver Passat, if the guy knew what he was doing he could have been invisibly following her for days via the simple expedient of driving any other vehicle.
The thought of it made her shudder. Why would anybody be tailing her? Her principal suspicion was Hamish Queen, or rather someone working on his behalf. He had lied, he had made the assumption that Tessa Garrion was missing and he had the wherewithal to make things happen quickly. However, according to Sanquhar, Queen had called all of the surviving Glass Shoe players as soon as he’d finished talking to Jasmine. If one of them had something to hide it could have been any of them who had organised a tail, or even followed her themselves. It wasn’t as though she’d have been hard to track down: Sharp Investigations was in the Yellow Pages, as well as linked on a thousand websites following last summer’s press.
From what Sanquhar had said, it sounded like they all might have something to hide, as well as reputations well worth protecting. He had hinted at repercussions, or at least how she wouldn’t be popular for excavating this period of their collective pasts. Finlay Weir was a teacher, Sanquhar had suggested maybe even the head of a school, and in this day and age even trace elements of scandal could be toxic. You could get fired for pretty much anything except being a rubbish teacher.
Murray Maxwell had become a Scottish household name back in the eighties by appearing in Scotia Television’s long-running soap,Darroch Glen, then established his acting credentials more seriously during the nineties as Inspector Kelvin in the same channel’s Glasgow-set police dramaRaintown Blue. It was still going, fifteen years after Maxwell left it, but his character’s name remained the one everybody referenced whenever the show was mentioned. He had moved to the other side of the camera after that, producing new programmes for Scotia and eventually becoming its head of drama. It was said he was in the running for the vacant top job as the channel’s chief executive, his chances of which would not be augmented by revelations of venal excess, even if it had been three decades ago.
Russell Darius, as a horror-film director, was arguably the one who had least to lose from stories of sex, drugs or even Satanism, but he was also known to be fiercely protective of his privacy.
When she was reading the coverage of the spat over ACS’s fundingrejection, Jasmine, who had barely heard of Darius before, was surprised by his list of credits. It turned out that she knew many of his films by reputation, though she hadn’t seen them, and certainly couldn’t have said who directed them prior to clicking the article’s link to the IMDb. According to one sidebar, despite being regarded as something of an auteur, Darius’s reluctance to sellhimselfhad contributed to his dwindling commercial success during an era when the cult of personality reigned and selling your films purely on their own merits seemed quaint to the point of naive. He had given precious few interviews in recent years and made even fewer films. It seemed he had gained great notoriety back in the early eighties, when his work fell foul of the tabloids’ ‘video nasty’ hysteria, and this had made him very shy of the British press ever since.
Contemplating this line-up, Jasmine almost laughed out loud at just how staggeringly bare-faced Hamish Queen’s lie had been. The only two names he could be forgiven were Finlay Weir and, ironically, Tessa Garrion. She’d give Hamish this much though: it certainly bore out Dot Prowis’s testament to his talent-spotting ability. Of this small company, all but two of them had gone on to very big things: a West End producer; a film director; two television stalwarts, one of them now a major player at a regional ITV franchise; and the ex-head of Arts Council Scotland, waiting in the wings for a place on the BBC Trust.
However, just as striking was the fact that nobody seemed aware of their common connection. Jasmine hadn’t seen it mentioned anywhere; the link between Darius and Sanquhar was a particularly glaring omission in light of the funding controversy. How many awkward questions would that have posed had it come out at the time, especially for Sanquhar? Was it personal? Was there a longstanding grudge? If so, Darius had been very magnanimous by not revealing a fact that would have mired Sanquhar neck-deep in the brown stuff, restricting himself to a dig about his elitism.
All these famous names had once worked together in the same fledgling theatre company. It should have been a well-known item of trivia, like how everyone knew Billy Connolly had once been in a band with Gerry Rafferty, or that Francis Ford Coppola, MartinScorsese and James Cameron had all worked for Roger Corman. That nobody knew the original Glass Shoe Company included Hamish Queen, Julian Sanquhar, Russell Darius, Murray Maxwell and the late Adam Nolan indicated that none of them had ever mentioned it, because it would only have taken one to do so, especially in the Wikipedia age, for it to go viral.
There had to have been a conscious decision never to invoke this connection: either a collective vow or, perhaps more disturbingly, they had each independently reasoned that they had too much to lose. Either way, each must have known his counterparts’ silence was guaranteed by the prospect of mutually assured destruction.
What had been so awful that Sanquhar still seemed spooked by it thirty years later? As he said himself, he wasn’t some nutter. He was a hugely respected, intimidatingly intelligent and thoroughly sober individual, yet there he was, talking about something that responds to human darkness, something that feeds off the worst in men, and he wasn’t being entirely allegorical.
Jasmine took a detour to East Kilbride and stopped off at Galt Linklater’s premises to fill in some paperwork concerning the job in Perth earlier that day. It was twenty past six by the time she got there, but there was usually somebody around in the evenings, sometimes all night if work required it. She had to buzz to be let in, but she could see lights on inside. When she walked through reception and into the offices there was a small cheer and some applause. She saw Rab Forrest, Andy Smith and Johnny Gibson gathered around one desk, grinning at her. Andy was miming his hands on a steering wheel, then a sudden shudder. Clearly they had heard about this morning’s events. Even Grumpy Gibby looked tickled.
They were eager to hear her version of it and she obliged, not least because she wasn’t going to get peace to file her paperwork until she’d done so. Their attention felt slightly patronising, as the story was clearly all the more amusing to them for it being ‘the wee lassie’ who had pulled this stunt, but nevertheless, the unequivocal sentiment coming from all of them was that the wee lassie had done well.
‘They’ve already started referring to you as “Crash”,’ Rab informed her.
She rolled her eyes, as if to say ‘what are they like?’ and to acknowledge that this die was now cast, but she did so to conceal a degree of relief at having acquired this new nickname. As she became a more familiar face and the barriers of formality started to break down, some of them had occasionally referred to her as Jazz, which had uncomfortable associations, so she was really hoping it wouldn’t stick.
Her paperwork filed, she set off for Arden and the office. It was after seven and she was getting hungry. She’d leave the transcription to the morning, but she wanted the recording of her conversation with Sanquhar copied and backed up. ‘Your day’s work’s never over until you’ve secured the evidence,’ Jim had once said, and she abided by this no matter how tired or hungry she was.
As she drove past a supermarket on her way through Clarkston, she thought about stopping briefly to pick up a take-away salad or a sandwich, but forced herself to keep driving. She knew that if she did that, she’d end up eating it in the office – transcribing the Sanquhar interview. She could already hear her internal logic: might as well while I’m here. Not as though I’ve anything else to do with my evening.
She really would need to get herself a life, and she fully intended to, but chances were she’d probably get herself that new office furniture first.
Iwilldosomethingwith my evening, she vowed as she slowed to a stop behind the office, a sentiment made all the more compelling by having every space in the car park to choose from. A quick bite and a trip to the cinema. Even if the only thing she’d be showing up in time for was some no-brain blockbuster, she’d force herself to go. This was important.
She switched off the engine and reached down into the passenger-side footwell for her bag. As she gripped it and sat up straight again she felt uneasy, as though she’d done it too fast and made herself light-headed. It was far more than that, though. The hairs on her arms were pricking up, a nauseating sense of unease coursing through her. She felt claustrophobic all of a sudden and reached for the doorby reflex rather than intention. It was what Fallan had described as ‘a sudden, unarticulated sense that something about your immediate environment is disturbingly wrong’. Something told her to run. Not drive, run. It was fear, and Fallan said to listen when it speaks.
As she climbed out of the Civic she saw a man running towards her, his head covered by a hood, all but his eyes obscured by a black scarf. Something twinkled and shimmered in his right hand, a flickering pale blue light.
Jasmine ran for the building. She had enough of a start to know she’d get there first, but her keys were in a pouch in her bag and there were two locks to the main door. She tripped on the topmost of the front steps as she tried to delve and run at the same time, her eyes on the bag instead of on her footing. She stumbled for a pace and, unable to brake or recover her balance, slammed into a full-length double-glazed panel next to the door, throwing her arms up to cushion the impact. Her bag fell to the ground, scattering some its contents on the flagstones, but the office keys remained pinched between her thumb and fingers on her right hand. She steadied herself and stabbed the cylinder key into the lower of the locks. As she did so, she saw a flash of colour, a reflection in the glass of something arcing and spinning through the air. She heard a shuddering crash but kept her eyes on the locks and the keys, concentrating solely on getting that door open. She turned the second key, squeezed herself inside through the minimum width of an opening, then turned around and slammed the door shut again, the mortise lock clicking home to secure her inside.
Through the glass she saw that the small blue twinkling light had been transformed into a big, orange dancing glow.
The man hadn’t pursued her. He was standing a few yards behind her car, glass fragments sparkling on the concrete from where the driver’s side window had been shattered. He was unmoving, but from that distance, with his eyes beneath the hood, Jasmine couldn’t tell whether he was staring at her or at the Civic.
Inside the Honda the orange glow continued to dance, then there was a jolt, a pulse of greater ferocity, and she saw flames begin to lick around the interior. The hooded man took this as his cue to depart.He began to run, charging flat out towards the street, ducking to the right at the junction and disappearing out of Jasmine’s sight. Then, a few moments later, she heard an engine gun and a vehicle sped past the car park entrance, headed for the main road.
It was a silver Volkswagen Passat.
Jasmine watched as the blaze inside the Civic intensified. She heard the side windows shatter and saw the smoke begin to vent from the openings, the flames burning all the fiercer for the sudden inrush of fresh oxygen.
She was losing another small piece of her mum. It wasn’t just a car, it was a little time capsule, a place where she could still smell her, still feel her. All those memories, the places they’d gone together, the journeys they’d shared, the conversations they’d had.
Other people went to gravesides to think about their lost loved ones. Not Jasmine. She’d only been back once since the funeral because there was nothing about that place that connected her with her living mother, only with the empty numbness and the hollow ache of a horrible morning in the drizzle. The headstone was meaningless. Her mum had many memorials that meant far more to Jasmine. The Civic had been the most immediate of them, the most direct, something that transcended life with her and life without her.
Now it was burning before Jasmine’s eyes.
She slumped down at the foot of the stairs and cried.
Jasmine wasn’t sure at which point she realised DI Gormley was insinuating that she may have torched her own car as an insurance fraud, but she was acutely aware of the precise moment when she understood that the situation was irretrievable.
It was nothing explicit, more a series of questions that seemed irritatingly tangential until she worked out what they were driving at.
It was rather an old model, was it not? Was it a second-hand purchase? Third-hand? A dealership or a private sale? How did it run? Did you have a lot of trouble with it lately?
She deduced that these were questions intended to knock you off your guard if you were pulling an insurance job, by subtly conveying that the polis knew you were at it. She didn’t know how an innocentparty was supposed to react according to the police’s playbook for these situations; whether they asked these questions every time or only when they had their suspicions.
She mentioned her connections with Galt Linklater and dropped a few names, hoping at least to put herself in a context other than fraudulent chancer or attention-seeking hysteric, and at most for that brightening of the features that came with the recognition of a common acquaintance.
‘I know who you are, Miss Sharp,’ Gormley said darkly.
That was the moment.
When a young uniformed PC first arrived on the scene he had begun taking details, then got a call on his radio and was evidently told to hang fire. He informed her that there was someone more senior on their way, someone who had heard about it over the radio and wanted to handle it personally. Jasmine had been pleased, thinking maybe this meant there was a connection to something they were already working on.
There was a connection all right, but not to anything new. Jasmine didn’t know what version he’d heard, or whether Gormley was one of those cops who would simply have preferred if she’d just let it lie. She hadn’t been an agent of mischief over the Ramsay case, really just the bearer of bad news, but he looked like he would have no problem shooting the messenger.
DI Gormley’s face was, Jasmine reflected, a development opportunity. He looked like he’d spent much of his life in a bad mood, the lines on his visage indicating a near-permanently sour expression.
Once he said he knew who she was, she grasped that there was no point in trying to convince him of the truth of her case, because whether he believed her or not was immaterial. He wasn’t going to help her.
‘This silver Passat, did you get a registration?’
‘So you couldn’t be sure if it was the same car as you think has been following you?’
‘And the man had his face covered, that’s right?’
He said they’d look into it, in a way that suggested it would be placed on the task list right behind investigating alien abductions and the hunt for Sawney Beane.
Then as a parting shot, almost as an afterthought, he asked:
‘Can you think of anybody you might have upset, Miss Sharp? Anyone who might wish you harm?’
It was part going through the procedural motions and part a reminder that though she might know a few ex-cops, she hadn’t made many friends on the force.
She imagined herself answering.
‘It could be Hamish Queen, the multi-millionaire West End producer; Murray Maxwell, the big TV star; Russell Darius, the horror-movie director; or maybe Julian Sanquhar, the former head of Arts Council Scotland.’ Why not chuck in Alex Salmond, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and slap on a tin-foil headscarf for good measure. Gormley would lap it up.
‘No,’ she said, trying to hold back a new onset of tears as she watched him leave.
She felt all of a sudden very vulnerable and very much alone. Her car – her mum’s car – was gone, and the police weren’t going to do anything about it. She had nobody on her side. It put it into perspective that she was merely one girl confronting some powerful and, it would appear, dangerous people. As she said to Sanquhar, she was just asking some questions: that was all she had in her armoury. If they were responding with intimidation and violence, then what option did she have to return fire?Stings and Barbs
As Jasmine placed the handset back on its cradle she reflected on the unlikelihood of video-call technology ever becoming standard, rather than a novelty allowing people who actually liked each other to gawk into webcams. The inability to see each other’s faces was not something that the humble telephone was missing: it was in fact one of its greatest strengths.
It seemed to be the morning for awkward calls. So far she’d been involved in three, and it wasn’t yet eleven.
First Jasmine called Polly Seaton at Centre One, chasing up her request that Polly delve into the PAYE archives and dig out information on who else the Glass Shoe Company had paid a wage during its mayfly lifespan. Polly confirmed that Murray Maxwell, Russell Darius, Adam Nolan and Finlay Weir had been alongside Tessa Garrion on the payroll. Even more helpfully, she was also able to inform Jasmine that Finlay Weir was these days earning a salary from the Logie-Almond Academy Charitable Trust, thus saving her the bother of finding out where he taught. Logie-Almond Academy was a private school in rural Perthshire, and a quick browse of their website revealed that Finlay Weir was its headmaster.
The awkward part had come when Jasmine’s memory and conscience finally combined at the right time to prompt her to suggest she and Polly go out for a drink some time. There was a pause that endured just a little too long to represent Polly carrying out a quick check of her mental diary, followed by a response of ‘… eh, yeah, I suppose. Why not?’
Even before her unmistakably equivocal words, in those milliseconds of silence Jasmine realised first how stupid she’d been, then how pitiful she must look. Her unease at taking a loan of Polly, of cashing in on her goodwill despite their never being big pals,combined with her reluctance to socialise with the girl had made Jasmine blind to the possibility that Polly might not much fancy socialising with her either. It was a gut-deadening moment as she suddenly realised how unconsciously arrogant she’d been in thinking she’d be doing Polly some kind of favour, but that particular discomfort was soon dispersed as she grasped that Polly’s more likely interpretation was that Jasmine was a sad act with no friends. It was no great consolation that it wasn’t entirely true. Jasmine did have friends, but where she and Polly undeniably differed was that when she clocked off Polly had a life.
Once more, with feeling: Jasmine screws up.
There was no way of getting this toothpaste back into the tube, so she had to endure several knuckle-biting minutes of arranging a time and venue for a date that neither of them particularly wanted to keep.
Jasmine had just about finished beating herself up about it when she got a call from Charlotte, who had recently returned from France and had just heard from her dad how his meeting with Jasmine went. It was safe to say she wasn’t best pleased. At a later date, once Charlotte had calmed down, Jasmine might be allowed to explain that she wasn’t working for Hamish Queen’s third (imminently ex) wife, and might even be able to outline how she hadn’t asked her father anything deceitful, sleazy or impertinent. But even if she managed both, she reckoned it was safe to assume that Fire Curtain wouldn’t be offering her a part any time between now and the heat-death of the universe.
Jasmine’s awkward call to Polly had at least yielded comparatively direct contact details for Finlay Weir, for what that was worth: a number she could call, ask to speak to the man and have some hope of being put through, however briefly.
She had left a message for Murray Maxwell at Scotia TV’s studios at Pacific Quay on the south bank of the Clyde, but she had no guarantees that the receptionist had forwarded it to the right department, far less that it would ever land on Murray Maxwell’s desk. And as for Russell Darius, that was only a couple of stages superior to a message in a bottle. So far the only route open to her was viahis representation at Agents United, where they probably had a special hopper for binning the thousands of inquiries they got, asking for messages to be passed on to their talent roster.
The content of her requests had been quite explicit: she identified herself as a private investigator wishing to ask questions about an actress by the name of Tessa Garrion who had worked with Mr Maxwell/Mr Darius/Mr Weir under the auspices of the short-lived Glass Shoe Company. She reasoned that, given Hamish Queen’s ring-around, there was no point in being coy or attempting to mislead them. If she was overt about what she was investigating and about what she already knew, it would be unambiguously overt on their part if they refused to speak to her. It was as much pressure as she could bring to bear for now. She’d keep the requests coming and, if she got nowhere, her next gambit would be to subtly imply that their refusal to respond wouldn’t look good when she went public. She didn’t actually have anything much to go public with at this stage, but they might not know that, and besides, it was early days.
When she called Logie-Almond Academy she was surprised to be told by the receptionist that she was being ‘put through to the headmaster’s office’, but that turned out not to mean the headmaster himself. Instead she spoke to ‘Mr Weir’s secretary’, to whom Jasmine dictated her carefully worded but explicit request. Her heart sank a little. She had been half hoping for a direct line, or at least to be told when Weir would be available to take a future call. Instead she had encountered another protective layer of bureaucracy for another subject to hide under, meaning there was no chance of her dialling the number one time and getting lucky with him simply picking it up.
She imagined him reading the message, like she had imagined Maxwell and Darius, if they ever got theirs: the stern expression and maybe even a little lurch somewhere in the stomach as Hamish Queen’s warning was confirmed to be valid. What then, for each of them? A quiet resolution to thwart all approaches. A vague and undramatic little lie to a secretary or PA to paint Jasmine as an undesirable. A block on calls, an instruction not to pass on any further messages. And perhaps for one of them something more: a suddenhollow fear that a dark secret wasn’t buried quite so deeply as he’d believed.
Or they could just phone her back within the hour, as Finlay Weir did.
Jasmine travelled up to Perthshire in Jim’s old surveillance van, a clunky ancient diesel that still smelled of cigarettes and fish suppers nine months after Jim last drove it. It was Jim’s recommended practice only to drive a surveillance vehicle when you were actually on surveillance, as opposed to merely getting from A to B, in order to minimise the number of times you were seen getting in or out of it. Plus, if you drove it to meet somebody, you were pre-burned with regard to following them in future.
Jasmine didn’t have much of a choice at that moment, as her insurance company had reneged on their promise of a hire car, saying they were suspending this service in her case until they had ‘further investigated the validity of the claim’. This meant that that miserable dick DI Gormley had been on to them. He wouldn’t have said outright that the police believed she had torched her own car, as that might lay him open to repercussions. More likely a mixture of vagueness and innuendo, nod-and-a-wink stuff. Or Plod-is-a-wank stuff, as far as Jasmine was concerned.
The state of the van made her feel all the more self-conscious as she drove slowly down the broad tree-lined avenue that wound through the school grounds to the auspicious main building. She passed immaculately maintained playing fields, manicured verges, woodland pathways, outlying sandstone terraces with distinctive house badges identifying them as individual boarding houses, and a more modern sports hall the size of her old primary school. If she had sold her Honda Civic before it got petrol bombed she would have been doing well to raise enough to pay a week’s fees for this place, but nonetheless, she always felt quite robustly herself when she climbed out of that vehicle. Showing up in a purposely nondescript van made her look – and feel – like the hired help.
She reported to the school’s reception and was greeted by a formidably stern secretary who looked dubiously at her, as though readying herselfto escort Jasmine from the premises, until she stated that her business was with Finlay Weir and she was expected. The secretary’s manner softened a little as she instructed Jasmine to take a seat while Mr Weir was informed of her arrival, but from her overall demeanour Jasmine could vividly imagine that she’d have preferred the escorting from the premises resolution. The headmaster’s stock had probably taken a hit too, if he was entertaining the likes of Jasmine.
She sat on a wooden bench and glanced at the framed photographs on the wood-panelled walls: strapping girls and ebullient boys, thrusting, healthy and oh-so-confident as they wielded lacrosse sticks, grappled for a rugby ball, sang in the choir, played in the orchestra.
A girl walked past in a grey uniform with purple trim. Despite being garbed in pleated skirt, buttoned-up blazer and school tie, she still looked older than Jasmine. It was something in the way she carried herself; something in the way they all carried themselves.
Growing up in Edinburgh, Jasmine had known no shortage of private-school kids, but this place was something else entirely. According to the website, they did have day pupils but, being out here in the wilds of Perthshire, it was principally a boarding school: the kind of place only a certain class of family sent their offspring. The kind of place Hamish Queen and Julian Sanquhar had first met.
Finlay Weir ambled into the reception area with the unassuming grace of a man who already knows he’s going to be treated as the most important person in the room and thus doesn’t need to sell it.
‘You must be Jasmine Sharp,’ he said, a subtle gesture dismissing the secretary’s intention to stand up and mediate introductions.
Weir was tall and slim; not skinny, just thinner than Jasmine had expected, albeit those expectations had been coloured by the proliferation of photographs of rugby players on the walls. He had a full head of grey-flecked brown hair, which he appeared to have made no effort to dye, and was dressed in a dark brown suit, not altogether businesslike but not ageing-geography-teacher-with-PVC-elbow-patches either. Jasmine’s eye for detail spotted a tiny hole in his left earlobe where a stud must once have sat, but there were more explicit reminders of his more bohemian previous career at his wrists, where he wore cufflinks in the shapes of tragedy and comedy masks. Shehad found out that Queen and Sanquhar were both roughly one year his senior, but he looked a few years younger than them; could maybe even pass for late forties. He was attractive in a distinguished way; not trying to maintain a look whose time had passed, but chiselled enough to suggest he must have been very handsome once upon a time.
‘Would you like a cup of tea or coffee? A cold drink?’ he asked, gesturing towards a corridor.
‘No thank you. But I wouldn’t mind some fresh air. I’ve been cooped up driving for a while. Could we stretch our legs a wee bit?’
‘Certainly. I’ll give you the tour.’
Jasmine could have murdered a cuppa right then, but it was a greater priority to keep him out of his office. There were times when it was expedient to make the subject feel relaxed and comfortable, and times when you didn’t want them enjoying the reassurance of home advantage. This was definitely the latter. If she wanted Weir to open up, she had to take him away from the trappings that reminded him he was at the centre of this little world, not least because at a moment’s notice he could summon the scary secretary and grant her transparent wish of huckling Jasmine right out the front door.
In keeping with his stated intention, he gave her the tour, walking first all the way around the main building and then out towards the playing fields. He talked about the history of the school, famous alumni, the construction dates of various buildings, and informed her that he had boarded here himself in his schooldays. He had an easy manner but it felt professionally courteous rather than genuinely warm. Jasmine detected a certain intensity about him, a steel behind the smile, and decided she wouldn’t want to get sent to this headmaster’s office if she was in trouble.
Not that she imagined discipline was a big problem at Logie-Almond. It was hard to imagine some of the scenes she’d witnessed at Canonmills High being replicated here.
As if to emphasise the point, they had to give way at one point to a man with two rifles slung over each shoulder, accompanying a troupe of a dozen boys in cadet greens.
Jasmine’s face must have shown surprise, and quite possibly alarm.
‘They’re off for some shooting practice,’ Weir explained. ‘We have a rifle range, on the fringes of the woods.’
‘With live ammunition?’ she asked, trying not to sound horrified.
‘Oh no,’ Weir said. ‘Those were only third years.’
What he left unsaid negated any reassurance his actual words might have offered.
It really was another world.
‘I believe you’d like to ask me some questions about the rather ill-starred Glass Shoe Company,’ Weir said as they resumed their walk along a neatly defined gravel path.
‘Yes,’ Jasmine answered, relieved that the foreplay was over. ‘Though I was given the strong impression you might be disinclined to answer them.’
‘Oh yes? By whom?’
‘Julian Sanquhar, for one. And Hamish Queen, though less explicitly. I broached the subject with Hamish first, and by the time I spoke to Julian he informed me that Hamish had been phoning everyone involved with Glass Shoe to warn them that I was sniffing around. Julian seemed certain that nobody would be in a hurry to revisit that part of their past. Thus I confess I was surprised when you called back.’
‘It seems I didn’t get the memo,’ he stated, a wryness to his tone that was born more of bitterness than humour. ‘I shouldn’t be surprised. I don’t know if Hamish Queen would even remember my name.’
‘He claimed he couldn’t,’ Jasmine told him, watching for a response. His eyebrows rose sardonically before she added: ‘He in fact claimed he couldn’t remember the names of anybody in the original Glass Shoe Company except Tessa Garrion, whom I had just asked about, and Adam Nolan, of whom I could ask nothing. Among those whose names he had apparently forgotten were Julian Sanquhar, Murray Maxwell, Russell Darius and yourself.’
Weir gave a small sigh and glanced away towards the woods, Jasmine detecting a slight shake of the head. Regret and something else that lingered just as long.
‘In my case it might be true; or at least halfway plausible. He certainly worked very hard on forgetting me after the company broke up.’
‘Hamish suggested that the cast shied away from each other because of a kind of shared professional embarrassment. People not wanting to be reminded of their failure while it was still raw, that sort of thing.’
‘Hmmm,’ Weir replied, but Jasmine couldn’t tell whether it was in agreement or dispute. She suspected there was a bit of both, but she knew this much: he wasn’t going to leave it hanging. Weir wasn’t reluctant to revisit this part of his past, he was champing at the bit.
‘I think it suited Hamish to forget certain things,’ he added, unprompted. ‘I was with Dundee Rep for a year, which was where Hamish saw me. I was Christian inCyrano de Bergerac. It got me a lot of very good notices and some very tempting offers, including a place in the Lyceum Company in Edinburgh. I turned them down because Hamish sold me on his idea for Glass Shoe. I was rather torn – who wouldn’t want a job at the Lyceum? – but Hamish pushed all the right buttons, including a clever mixture of flattery and guilt.’
‘He told you his planned project just wouldn’t work without you?’ Jasmine guessed.
‘Bang on the money. So I signed up, walked out on Dundee Rep, said a very polite thanks but no thanks to the Lyceum and headed for the Highlands.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Jasmine, letting him know he could skip this part. For now.
‘By the time the dust had settled over the rubble of Glass Shoe, everyone was already cast and rehearsing for their autumn seasons and I had missed the boat. I was out of work for a long time, just the odd bit part here and there. Meanwhile Hamish got busy with a new venture and a little way down the line he’s got a musical in the West End. I was getting desperate and I reckoned he owed me, so I approached him for a part. Nothing big: a place in the chorus, anything, just something to deal me back into the game.’
He gave a rueful smile, devoid of humour.
‘No can do. Ijust wasn’t right for it.’
Weir stopped for a moment where two paths met, briefly undecided which route to continue their walk. He opted for the right, taking them around the playing fields.
‘I hasten to add that I’m not bitter. Hamish set me on the road to here, put me out of my misery. If he hadn’t, maybe I wouldn’t have this.’
He gestured expansively at the school and its impressive grounds, the sprawling domain of which he was ruler.
But he sounded bitter, and saying he wasn’t just drew attention to the fact. Jasmine knew what it was to be working towards a future in the theatre then to have to rebuild your life around a different career altogether. Yes, Weir had done well for himself, and yes she might do well with Sharp Investigations; she was already earning more than she would had her more modest dreams come true and she’d landed a part with a rep. But even those modest dreams would always seem more desirable than compromised reality, and Weir had enjoyed a true taste of living his dreams before they were taken away.
He might even believe himself that he wasn’t bitter. He probably wouldn’t rant about it after a few too many, probably didn’t get maudlin and bore the missus with his ‘coulda been a contender’ speech. Nor would he ever have gone to the press with anything compromising towards Hamish Queen or the others, as that simply wouldn’t be becoming for a man in his profession, nor conducive to career preferment. But in Jasmine, finally he had a chance to discreetly share some information that could make life just a little less comfortable for Hamish Queen. That was why he’d phoned back, and so soon. He had been bottling this up for years and she was the first person to come along offering a corkscrew.
‘Still, at the time it must have stung,’ she suggested, giving the handle a twist.
Weir shrugged, not denying it, but saying: what can you do?
‘That’s Hamish. I’ve heard the same story over and over from other people. Once you cease to be useful to him he discards you.’
‘I think it runs in the family,’ Jasmine replied, thinking of Charlotte and deciding to tempt Weir with an intimacy.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I know his daughter. She’s got her own company now.’
‘Fire Curtain,’ said Weir, showing he still kept an interest in Scottish theatre.
‘Yes. It’s been said Charlotte has a discerning eye for recognising talents but only in so far as envisioning how they would augment her own.’
‘How do you know her?’
‘We were at the SATD together.’
‘You trained as an actress?’
‘For a while. I had to drop out because my mum died. She was an actress too. Theatre runs in my family.’
Jasmine knew there was no need to share this, but she couldn’t stop herself. It was his age and his theatre background. She’d be embarrassed to admit it, but she had said it on the off chance that Weir had known her mum, just throwing out a line and hoping to get something back. Ever since Dot Prowis said she’d seen her perform it had opened up a whole unexplored area of her mum’s life. Her heart had soared to hear Mum described, and she wanted to feel that way again, to unearth those hidden archives. Mum had friends who worked in theatre, but Jasmine had often heard as much as they were prepared to say. Plenty of others must have worked with her though, or at least seen her act, so surely it wasn’t folly to hope that one day she’d mention the name to somebody and it would bear fruit. Any memory would be cherished, a photograph would be like the Holy Grail.
The name evidently meant nothing to Weir, but then he was already out of theatre and into teaching by the time her mum was on stage.
‘I’m convinced it was more than professional embarrassment that led to Hamish and the other members of Glass Shoe shunning each other,’ Jasmine said. They were skirting the playing fields, passing the all-weather surface with its high fence and approaching the rugby pitch. ‘What happened up there at Kildrachan House that would have him lying to me about forgetting people’s names, then phoning those same people to warn them I was asking questions? Julian Sanquhar all but suggested I’d be putting myself in harm’s way bydigging this stuff up. He made it sound like you’d all been raising hell, and I don’t mean that purely as a figure of speech.’
Weir let out a laugh, and for the first time she saw genuine amusement in his face.
‘God love Julian. For a man who prefers working behind the scenes he’s always been the biggest drama queen of the lot. Give him his due, he’s the most gentle-natured fellow, but with it the most sensitive and therefore the most inclined to take everything too seriously. But yes, you’re right: it was a little more than professional embarrassment, especially between Hamish and me.’
‘You had a falling out?’
‘Oh, everybody had a falling out. We were a theatre company on the road! Well, not on the road yet, but certainly at close quarters. Rehearsals were often a battleground. Hamish and Julian hired us and promptly forgot that we might have minds of our own. Being a fledgling company, and everybody having comparable levels of experience, we all felt we had our own ideas to contribute, but in truth the last thing we needed was a democracy. We needed a dictator, and that should have been Hamish. He wasn’t strong enough though: neither in himself nor in his conviction. He could have said, quite literally, “my house, my rules”, but I don’t think he was comfortable with that. Hamish liked to be liked. He needed a bad cop, and that certainly wasn’t Julian.’
There was a strong breeze picking up now that they were well away from the shelter of the trees: not exactly an icy wind, but cool enough to remind Jasmine that June in Perthshire didn’t always mean shorts and T-shirts.
‘Looking back,’ Weir went on, ‘it’s easier to see how Hamish was torn between his natural instincts and some high-minded ideals that he thought he ought to be observing. Inside, at gut level, I think Hamish always wanted to put on glossy spectaculars, but at that time he still thought there was something vulgar about it, almost something too easy. He maybe hadn’t learned by then that what comes easiest often does so because it’s what you’re best at.’
‘Were there aides de camp in this conflict? I mean, was Julian the advocate for the more elitist aesthetic?’
‘I strongly suspect so, but not in any confrontational way. He would have been influencing Hamish subtly, privately,behind the scenes, where Julian was most comfortable. The stand-up rammies and blazing arguments were all between Hamish and Darius. He was the production designer. I mean, he had parts too – we all did, even Julian – but he designed the set, the costumes and the props.’
Jasmine wondered a little at Weir’s reference to Russell Darius by surname. It had been Hamish this, Julian that, then Darius. There was something of the public school about it, but he sounded less like a headmaster and more like a pupil referring to his peer. Was there something in that? Did it suggest camaraderie or distance?
She noticed the word ‘rammies’ get special emphasis too. Weir spoke in an almost neutral accent, identifiably Scottish but shorn of regionally specific pronunciations. He had chosen the word and spoken it with remembered relish as though it required something more colloquially Glaswegian to convey the ferocity of the arguments.
‘Darius would remind us all that Shakespeare was competing for audiences with public executions, so you could say that he was the one trying to appeal to Hamish’s instinct for spectacle. I remember he devised these fantastic spring-loaded arrows that fitted into a tunic. The archer would twang a bow and the actor in the costume pushed a button to suddenly pop these things up. It looked for all the world like you’d really been shot. One day Hamish decided that such visual effects were a sideshow detracting from the text and off we went, fifteen rounds.’
Weir smiled again at the memory, though she could tell that it was only the distance of time that made it amusing.
‘Lilliput and Blefuscu,’ she suggested.
‘Arguing over which end to slice an egg, quite. But it seemed so terribly important at the time. God, we argued over everything. Fortunately, outside of rehearsals, the social side of it was going well. Too well, some would say.’
‘Julian Sanquhar certainly intimated as much. He wouldn’t elaborate, but he made it sound like the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah.’
Weir rolled his eyes.
‘Julian, bless him, has a brain the size of Perthshire and a heart to match, but he was never the most worldly. He was twenty-five and a strange mixture of prudish old fuddy-duddy and immature adolescent. I suspect he shed the latter part eventually and more fully grew into the former. At the time it wouldn’t have surprised me if he was still a virgin. That was one thing that didn’t run in his family, right enough.’
‘I don’t think virginity runs beyond one generation in any family.’
Weir gave a dry laugh and continued.
‘I meant the opposite. His father was quite the swordsman, reputedly. In fact, I think it was around about that time that Julian’s parents got divorced. It upset him a great deal. He was very close to his mother but he thought the world of his father. A painful business for anyone, but as I said, Julian was more sensitive than most. I think starting out on this theatre venture was a response to that, taking himself away to the Highlands and building something new.’
They had reached the end of the last pitch. Weir gestured to his left with a querying look, checking Jasmine was happy to leave the path and continue along the grass at the touchline. She acquiesced, grateful for the recent dry spell and the resultant absence of mud. As they turned she saw a group of girls trot down from the school building in hockey gear, one struggling with her arms full of white protective pads.
‘So you and Hamish,’ she said. ‘What did you fall out about?’
‘Tessa Garrion,’ he replied, fixing Jasmine with a neutral but intense stare, as though warning her they were on sensitive ground.
‘I was captivated by her. Let me be clear: I don’t mean she was some cute young thing I developed a crush on. She was wonderful to work with, by far the best thing about those rehearsals. I admired her professionalism as well as her natural talent, and she was great company. She lit up the room, brought the best out in me too, I felt. We got on so well, and I hoped it would turn into something more, but it became clear she wasn’t interested in me that way.
‘I was all right with it. I could take being “put in the friend zone”, as they say these days, because she was the kind of woman – thekind of person – I was thrilled to have as a friend. But then, a couple of weeks into rehearsals, she was sleeping with Hamish and I wasn’t best pleased.’
‘You couldn’t stand back and wish the other guy good luck?’ Jasmine said drily.
‘The other guy was married.’
‘It’s been another recurring theme with Hamish: he can’t keep his hands off the cast. That’s why he’s on to his third divorce.’
‘They do say he has an eye for talent.’
‘I cared about Tessa. She knew he was married, she wasn’t misled, but I couldn’t help thinking she didn’t really know what she was getting into either. It must have dawned on her soon enough. We were all in the same house so we could hear the arguments.
‘She broke down in tears a couple of times during rehearsals. She became rather short-tempered too: less tolerant of all the aggro and of the lack of professionalism being exhibited in certain quarters.’
Weir stopped and looked across the pitches, over the heads of the girls now practising passing and dribbling.
‘Tessa and Hamish had a blazing row on the night she left. There were a lot of things coming to a head around then, not just between the two of them.’
He took a breath and sighed through his nostrils, biting his lower lip.
‘You ever been in a situation where, deep down, you all know something’s over but it takes somebody to point it out or something to happen to make you all see it? For us, that was it: Tessa leaving. I think we all recognised it when it came; we just didn’t realise it was going to be so messy.’
‘I remember I got up quite late. The house was strangely quiet, a real morning-after feel to the place. None of us was ever up with the lark, but someone normally went around the rooms waking people, getting everyone roused so that we could commence rehearsing. It was usually Hamish, Julian or Tessa: the first twobecause they were paying the wages and Tessa because she simply lived to work.
‘I wasn’t the first awake: I found Hamish in the kitchen, looking very overwrought. He told me Tessa was gone. They’d had a big argument, as we knew, and she had walked out. I asked where she had gone and he told me she didn’t say: just packed her things and left. The last bus passed through Balnavon just after eleven, and he reckoned she must have taken it. It went to Inverness, where you could get the midnight sleeper train south, all the way to London.’
‘Where she’d been planning to go all along,’ Jasmine stated.
‘How do you know that?’
‘Hamish said she’d gone down for some auditions and then come back north to consider her options. He likened it to a gifted footballer playing out the season with Elgin City when there were offers from Man United and Barcelona waiting for his signature.’
‘Well, in this case, Elgin City were buggered without their star player and we all knew it. We had a crisis meeting, where it was suggested that we could ask Saffron to take over.’
‘Saffron? Who’s that?’
‘She was this Kiwi hippy chick who kind of fell in with the company. She worked in the bar at the Balnavon Hotel. We rehearsed at the church hall across the road from the hotel; well, strictly speaking it was the community centre, but it was next door to the church and everybody called it the church hall. The local minister certainly liked to play on the ambiguity. He was a joyless, shrivelled little Wee Free, and was vociferous in his disapproval of our whole undertaking. The fact we were doing, you know,thatplay seemed to exercise him all the more.Witchcraft and blasphemy,’ Weir mimicked, wagging an angry finger and screwing up his face into a pinched expression.
‘I think the fact that it was for pleasure and entertainment was his principal objection. Hamish’s father had funded the construction of the community centre, so the minister couldn’t stop us: he just had to protest from the sidelines. Anyway, Saffron came to watch us work and just gradually insinuated herself into the group. She was a few years older than us, maybe in her mid-thirties, and a bit of a drifter. She’d lived all over the world, left New Zealand years back.God knows how she ended up in Balnavon. She was a passable actress, though. We gave her Lady MacDuff.’
‘So she became part of the company?’
‘Not officially. She got some cash-in-hand payments, probably not Equity rates. She was “in”, though. She’d have dropped the bar job to come on tour if it had got that far, and she hung around with us at the house when she wasn’t working.’
‘But her name would never have appeared on any paperwork,’ Jasmine stated, thinking of Julian Sanquhar’s reluctance to name names. He hadn’t mentioned her, only the people he knew would have been listed on the payroll.
‘No. I couldn’t tell you her name, in fact. Her surname, I mean. I don’t think I ever heard her referred to as anything other than Saffron, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t her given name either. She was rather New Age. Very liberal-minded, easy to imagine dancing naked at Woodstock with flowers in her hair.’
Weir smiled quite warmly at this memory, like a break in the clouds.
‘I volunteered to ask her. I think I was the most desperate to keep things going, as I would be out of a job if the tour didn’t happen. I went to the little house she rented, a one-storey terraced place on the main road out of the village, but no dice.’
‘She said no?’
‘No, she didn’t say anything. I saw her through the window, but she refused to come to the door. She told me to go away. She sounded upset and rather apprehensive. When I went back and reported the situation, Darius came over a little sheepish and confessed that things had perhaps gone a bit too far the night before.’
‘He didn’t say and frankly I didn’t want to know, but the whole time at Kildrachan, Darius was on this Aleister Crowley trip. He always had an interest in the occult, so living in some big spooky mansion in the Highlands – not to mention consuming a great volume of various proscribed substances – he was dabbling in all kinds of bizarre stuff. It didn’t bother me either way: he could sacrifice goats in the living room as far as I was concerned, if it kept him andhis drugs out of my way. It was a lot of arrant nonsense, though the mere discussion of it was usually enough to disturb Julian. Saffron shared Darius’s appetites, both for drugs and for ritualism. I don’t know what they got up to that evening, but clearly it had been a step too far for her.’
They had circumnavigated the playing fields and rejoined the system of gravel pathways. Jasmine was concerned that Weir was about to guide her back to the main building and draw their discussion to a close. Instead, he led her in the opposite direction, towards the dormitories. He wasn’t done.
‘Drugs and occult rituals? Is that what Hamish Queen was hoping to prevent me from finding out about?’
‘No,’ he replied. ‘Thisis what Hamish doesn’t want anyone finding out about: the next day, the police turned up at the house. They took him in for questioning and he was there for the best part of two days.’
‘Questioning over what?’
‘Tessa Garrion’s disappearance, though we didn’t know that at the time. She’d only just left and nobody had reported her missing. All of a sudden the cops were hunting all over the house. It was very weird. They didn’t turn up asking if Tessa was there, they just took Hamish away and began rooting around the place. They wouldn’t tell anyone anything, but that’s the police for you. You never know what information they have or what their agenda is. They found bloodstains in the front hall and in one of the big drawing rooms, and they began questioning everybody about what they’d seen and heard.’
‘But for the police to have taken action, and so soon, they must have had reason to suspect something had happened.’
‘No doubt, but as I said, they weren’t telling us what they knew. Until they questioned us we didn’t even know it was Tessa they were concerned with. They questioned us separately, so it was only when we spoke to each other afterwards that we discovered nobody had actually seen Tessa leave. We only had Hamish’s account of her departure.