Main Sudden Death

Sudden Death

A man stabs his boss before throwing him off the roof of the office building. As Detective Inspector Frank Miller has him cornered on the roof of another building, the killer jumps to his death.


A woman sets fire to the hotel kitchen where she works, then stabs and kills two co-workers before leaping to her death from the North Bridge.


Miller wonders what would make two, seemingly innocent people commit such atrocious acts.


The investigation leads them to a wellness centre. An undercover operation is mounted by Miller and his boss.


Then another atrocity occurs, but by then, it's too late.


Somebody is literally making life and death decisions, but he isn't finished yet.


He's only just started...



Language: english
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Contents





Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter Forty-Seven

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-Two

Chapter Fifty-Three

Chapter Fifty-Four

Chapter Fifty-Five

Chapter Fifty-Six

Chapter Fifty-Seven

Chapter Fifty-Eight

Chapter Fifty-Nine

Chapter Sixty

Chapter Sixty-One

Chapter Sixty-Two

Chapter Sixty-Three

Chapter Sixty-Four

Chapter Sixty-Five

Chapter Sixty-Six

Chapter Sixty-Seven

Chapter Sixty-Eight

AUTHOR’S NOTE

FRANK MILLER TITLES





SUDDEN DEATH





John Carson





Copyright © 2017 John Carson Cover design by Jimmy Gibbs



John Carson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.





All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All events in the book are made up and are not based on any real event.





All rights reserved.





This book is dedicated to Lt. James Nenni and Officer Laura Dunn

of The Town of Newburgh Police Department





CHAPTER ONE





Friday morning. End of the week. Start of the weekend for Steven Hubbard would be at five o'clock.

He walked into his office building with a broad smile. Only eight hours to go and he'd have the most amazing time. Something to talk about that his friends wouldn't believe.

He didn't know he'd be dead in less than two hours.

Castle Court was a modern building, built on a gap site in Castle Terrace, just off Lothian Road.

Spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle! the brochure had touted, and for once, the estate agents had been right. The prime offices occupied by Hubbard's company sat cheek to jowl with the capital's most famous landmark. Although some might argue that the capital's most famous landmark was the statue of Greyfriar's Bobby over on George IV Bridge. Tourists had rubbed the wee dog's nose for luck so often the brass underneath all the dirt was shining through once more.

Whichever one it was, the castle was the only one visible from the office windows of accountancy firm, Alamo Management. Accountancy was only one of the specialities in their portfolio, but the most important one.

Hubbard walked into the grand entrance hall, fully open to the ceiling five storeys up. It was as if the contractors had forgotten to add the centrepiece of the building, and stuck in two walkways up on levels four and five, connecting each half of the building.

Hubbard felt the briefcase bump against his leg as he walked. It was reassuring. Made him feel comfortable.

Especially today.

The day.

He nodded, smiled, and said good morning to workers from other firms. A staircase split off on either side. He took the left, mounting the wide, marble staircase. He liked to walk up. The corridor on the first floor looked down into the entrance lobby. He looked over at the other worker ants as they came into their colony.

'Morning,' a woman from the lawyer's office on level one said to him.

'Good morning.'

He smiled wider as he walked along the corridor. Up the next set of stairs until he reached level five.

Then he stopped.

He felt excitement, and a sudden rush of adrenaline shot through him as he thought about what he was going to do. The corridor wasn't open here, but there were windows looking down.

He crossed over the top walkway, hearing the noise of them talking way down below. Were they talking about him? They were. He just knew it. They were looking up at him, talking about him. Weren't they?

Fear, excitement, and rage all bandied for his attention as he ran all the way over the walkway and into the company's offices.

He was sweating, but the sweat was running thick and fast.

'Morning,' the receptionist said to him, smiling. Then she saw the look on his face and her smile dropped.

He turned right instead of left. Senior Management.

'Is everything alright?' Miss Smiley said, her mouth full of expensive teeth.

'Everything's just fine,' he said.

She stood up from behind the desk that was usually the barrier between clients and staff. 'You know you're not supposed to go along there? They won't be happy.'

He stopped, and stood still for a moment, as if taking in her words. Then he slowly turned round. He was no longer smiling. 'What did you say to me?' He didn't say it harshly, just with an underlying tone.

The girl stood still, unsure of herself now.

God, he felt electrified. He could see the fear in the woman's face, and it thrilled him. He turned and walked fast, keeping a tight hold of the briefcase.

The door he wanted was straight ahead. He switched the briefcase to his left hand, and used his right to grab the door handle and turn it in one fluid movement.

'Sorry, sir,' the receptionist said from behind him. 'I don't think he's well.'

'Call security.'

Hubbard saw her disappear, and then he looked back at the man. 'We need to talk.'

It was easy. He opened the briefcase, and took the knife out. 'Open it.' He indicated the glass door that led out onto the balcony running the length of the building on this side.

'What the hell are you doing?'

'Open it,' he repeated, holding the knife higher.

'No. I won't.'

Hubbard stepped forward, and slashed his boss across the face. The man screamed.

'I said open it!'

The boss put a hand to his face, blood pouring through his fingers. He took out a key and opened the door.

The balcony offered an unparalleled view of the castle. They stepped out. He turned to face Hubbard. 'What's wrong with you? You won't get away with this. I'll see you're arrested and fired.'

Hubbard didn't hear the man's words. He felt better than he'd ever felt in his life.

He sensed the receptionist watching him from behind as he rammed the knife into his boss' guts. Heard the woman's screams as the boss doubled over, blood spurting over the stone floor of the balcony.

Hubbard dropped the knife, and then grabbed hold of his boss, easily lifting the older, smaller man up to the balcony railing.

Then he felt a rush as he'd never felt before as he pushed.

He stepped back as the boss disappeared from sight. Screaming from behind him, screaming from in front, it was music to his ears.

Then he calmly picked up the knife, walked back into the office, put the knife back into the briefcase, and walked through into the corridor.

He casually stopped at the fire alarm box set on a wall. There was a little hammer on a chain to break the glass.

Steven Hubbard punched it.





CHAPTER TWO





Friday morning. End of the week. Start of the weekend for me would be at five o'clock.

'You got in late last night,' Kim said to me as I poured my second cup of coffee. I knew she wasn't meaning it in a nagging way. She wasn't my wife. Yet. We got engaged on Christmas Day, and to be honest, it seemed to have mellowed her a little. As if it had taken off the edge. We'd talked about getting married, but I had dragged my heels.

Catching a murderer sometimes makes you put your own life into perspective.

'Jesus, Bruce was putting them away. Percy couldn't keep up, so we poured him into a fast black. No doubt Suzie will be blowing smoke signals your way later on today.'

'Tonight. We have a ladies night out, remember?'

'Of course I remember.' I hadn't.

'Liar.'

'Mum, that's not a word we use indoors, remember?' Six-year-old Emma, Kim's daughter, my soon-to-be stepdaughter. I loved her with all my heart, and her father was okay with her living with me after I marry his ex-wife.

'Sometimes, when I'm dealing with a hardened police officer, I have to get tough,' Kim answered.

'Frank's not tough. He's a big softie.' The little girl laughed and continued eating her cereal.

That was me put in my place.

'You're right, my wee doll. Frank's a big softie,' I agreed.

'Will you be looking after me tonight, Frank? We can watch a film. And you can make us popcorn.'

My father, Jack, walked into the kitchen. 'Are you making Grandpa Jack some popcorn too?'

'Of course we will.'

'And what film will we watch out of your collection of millions?' I raised my eyebrows at her.

'Really, Frank?' she answered. 'What have I said about you exaggerating? I have loads of DVDs, not millions. And I thought about 'Sleeping Beauty' again, since you always call Grandpa Jack that when he's sleeping in the chair.' She got up from the table, rinsed her bowl out, and put it into the dishwasher.

'Wait, what?' Jack said, turning to look at the little person walking out of the kitchen to go and get ready for school.

Kim laughed. 'She's convinced Samantha has a cat in her flat and you tire yourself out playing with it. That's why you fall asleep in your chair.'

'Yeah, that's what it is,' he said, with a wry smile.

I buttered some toast and sat at the table with my coffee. 'You were in late last night,' I said.

Jack was a retired detective, and was dating Edinburgh-based crime writer, Samantha Willis, who just happened to live on the same level as us. That's how he met her.

'Listen, sonny, I'm a big boy now.'

'Oh, how the roles have reversed.'

'You're right though. I wish I'd come straight home from the pub. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing Sam, but she had a nice bottle of wine. If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have persuaded her to open it.'

'You're worse than a bairn.'

'Don't worry, I'll be out of your hair before you get married.'

'We're not rushing you, Dad.'

'I know that, but when you're starting married life, you don't want the old codger hanging around.' He made himself a coffee. Black.

'You've still got a few years to go before you hit sixty. Hardly an old codger. Old sod, maybe, but we're still a good bit away from codger.'

'Where did I go wrong, Kim?'

'I don't think it was anything you did, Jack,' she said, laughing.

'The gold band isn't on your finger yet, dear,' I said to her, giving her my best smartarse look.

'I think I'll move in with Jack and Samantha.'

'Sam doesn't have a cat.'

'We'll take Charlie.'

'I have no words for you.'

She laughed again as she left the kitchen to go and help Emma get ready for school.

'How's Bruce doing, now he's a dad again?'

'I thought he would enjoy going for a beer with me and Percy. Andy Watt was there too. It started off okay, but then he got all maudlin again. He wants to come back to active duty so badly, but the doctor hasn't given his approval yet. He needs to pass the psych evaluation, and he just can't right now.'

'Poor bastard. I can't imagine how he gets on with life every day after what he went through. An ear and three fingers cut off.'

'He's doing just fine. Physically. It's the mental side of things that gets to him.'

'He's seeing a psychologist though, isn't he?'

'He is. And she's doing well with him, but he's stuck in all day, even though the kids go to day care. Now Hazel's back with us, Bruce is at home with his thoughts and Jeremy Kyle. I'm going to have a word with Percy, see if he can swing Bruce coming back. Even sitting behind a desk to begin with.'

'Good idea.'

Later on, when I was thinking back on the conversation I had with my father, I wondered if my words had anything to do with the outcome of what happened.

And if anything I said would have changed things.

Or whether they would have stayed on that course and people would still have died.





CHAPTER THREE





Sometimes, the mornings start off slowly and I handle paperwork. Not the most glamorous part of the job, but that's the way it goes.

This Friday morning wasn't one of those mornings.

If I hadn't been feeling rough, I would have driven the car, but Detective Sergeant Andy Watt assured me he was fine. White-faced and drinking his third cup of coffee that I'd seen, but he was fine.

'Just don't get us killed,' I told him as he pulled into the kerb, too fast and too close to the patrol car that was sitting blocking the road.

The fire trucks were sitting idly with their diesel engines growling in the cold, March sun. I wished I'd put an overcoat on. The sun coming in through my window earlier was lying to me. The wind ran up and started picking a fight.

What seemed like hundreds of people were milling around on the pavement outside Castle Court, a modern building overlooking its namesake, Edinburgh Castle. I looked up and wondered if anybody had witnessed the event.

People were right up against the police line tape, phones out recording everything that was going on. Forensics hadn't arrived yet. Neither had the pathologist. I wondered which one of them had picked the short straw this time.

A forensic screen had been put round the victim, and a blanket covered him. We lifted the tape and walked along this deserted stretch of pavement.

'This is getting worse by the minute,' Detective Chief Inspector Paddy Gibb said, coming up to meet me and Watt. He'd gotten here first, along with Detective Constable Steffi Walker. Hazel Carter was on the opposite periphery with a squad of uniforms, taking statements.

'Stabbed and thrown over the side,' I said to him, looking up at the balcony way up high. 'That's what I call pissing off somebody.'

'That's not all, he set off the fire alarm and walked out with everybody else. Now we don't know where he is.'

'Then we know who he is?' Watt said.

'Steven Hubbard. Aged thirty-two. Works in the finance department. We have a witness who said the assailant just walked in, stabbed his boss in the guts after slashing his face. Then he threw him over.'

'He must have got blood on himself.'

'The lassie nearly fainted, Frank. She can hardly remember her own name. The paramedics are with her now. In the back of the ambulance.'

'Have the fire brigade cleared the building?' Watt said.

'This guy Hubbard set it off so there was no fire. I just spoke to the shift commander from Lauriston. They were first on the scene, and they said it was a deliberate set-off. No fire was detected.'

'It just helped him get out of the building,' I said.

Kate Murphy pulled up in her car and got to park near the ambulance.

'Morning, Kate,' I said.

'Hi, Frank. It's a bad one, I heard.'

'A witness says a stabbing before the victim was thrown over.' I turned and nodded upwards.

'I'll have a look. Did Doctor Wilson attend?'

'Not as far as I know. He's dealing with some drunks over at the station.'

'At this time of the morning?'

'It's Edinburgh.' Where drinking is a national sport, I wanted to say but kept quiet.

'When in Rome.'

She gave me a look that said things were different in the part of London she came from, but I doubted they differed that much.

'I'll have a look and then have a word with you,' she said, taking a forensic suit from the boot of her car and pulling it on. I walked over to the ambulance as Watt went inside the building with Gibb. Percy Purcell had left the station before me and I assumed he was also inside.

The woman was sitting inside with the doors closed, so her image wouldn't be shot and put on Facebook or any other media outlet.

I knocked and one of the paramedics opened one of the doors. I showed her my warrant card. 'DI Miller,' I said, stepping up into the vehicle.

The young woman sat on the side bed with a blanket wrapped round her, looking ghostly white as the male paramedic checked her over. I saw the woman was holding a cup of what I assumed was tea, and wondered who had fetched it for her. And whether the place did coffee.

'She's a receptionist for the finance company where the incident took place,' Steffi Walker said. She had been with the team for less than six months and was doing a great job. An ex-Army medic, she was taking this sort of event in her stride.

'Miss...?' I asked the young woman.

'Tammy.'

'I believe you saw what happened?'

She looked at me and I saw the shell-shock in her eyes. 'It was horrible. How could he do that? How could he just... stab him like that? Then throw him over the side?' Her voice was rising and I knew she was on the verge of a meltdown. She'd need to be taken to the hospital and given something to take the edge off.

'Are you able to tell me exactly what happened?'

She sipped some of the tea from the polystyrene cup before answering. 'He walked in as usual, but instead of going left to where the cubicle farm is, he turned right into the management section. I asked him what was going on and then he turned on me.'

I briefly looked at Steffi before carrying on. The young detective was taking notes.

'Can you describe to me what happened?'

She looked into my eyes and I could see a carnal fear there, like somebody who's stepped in front of a train and is pulled to safety at the last minute.

'I thought he was going to kill me. It was as if he were a different person.' Her hand was shaking as she looked into the tea. Then she started crying.

Steffi was up and took the cup from the woman. 'I've got it,' she said to me. I retreated out of the ambulance, confident my junior detective could handle the situation.

Inside the building, it was eerily quiet except for emergency personnel. Up on the top level, I found Paddy Gibb talking with Superintendent Percy Purcell out on the balcony, standing close to him as if he were contemplating throwing the boss over. He turned round when he heard me coming.

'Watch the blood there. Maggie Parks will have to go home and change her drawers if you fuck up her crime scene.'

Eloquently put, but Paddy was in a bad mood most of the time these days. He was due to retire so he could go and live with his girlfriend in Spain. The windy Edinburgh weather wasn't helping, accentuated by being up high.

'So he was stabbed here and thrown over,' I said, more out loud than to either man. Then I looked at Purcell. 'Do we have a motive?'

'Not yet,' he said, leading the way back in. I looked over at the castle again, knowing we'd send somebody up there to have a word. It was still an operating barracks, full of soldiers, one of whom could have been looking out of a window.

The crowd down below were still taking videos. The cars in the large, public, multi-storey car park opposite looked like scale models from up here.

'We have all patrols looking for him. We know what he looks like and we're getting somebody to find out where he lives.

'Does he live alone?' I asked.

'We don't know much yet. The place was emptied when the fire alarm went off, and none of the workers are allowed back in yet. We'll get his info as soon as.'

'I think working in a place like this would make me go off my fucking head,' Paddy said. He had one hand in his pocket, no doubt cradling the packet of cigarettes that were a permanent feature there.

'I got a few of the staff to come back up here after we had one of the dogs go through the building with an armed team,' Purcell said. 'Early indications are he was working alone.'

'Workplace violence or terrorism?' I asked. It reminded me of the recent dealings I'd had with a suicide bomber.

'Workplace, unless we find out otherwise.' Purcell said.

My mobile phone rang. I looked at the number and answered it.

'Miller,' Robert Molloy said by way of introduction. He was an Edinburgh businessman, but some would use the term gangster but I used neither. Pain in the arse was my name for him.

'Molloy. How did you get this number?'

'Good morning to you too, Detective. Now, I'm going to speak and you're going to listen. I heard on the radio a man was stabbed and thrown from the roof of an office building in Castle Terrace.'

'I'm not at liberty to say.'

Molloy's voice sounded rushed and angry, and not in the mood for conversation.

'I don't give a rat's arse what you're at liberty to say. I know you're looking for a bloke who works there. Steven Hubbard. Young man, wearing a suit, got blood on it. Wearing a silver watch.'

'What? Silver watch? What are you havering about, Molloy?' I'd walked away from Gibb and Purcell and lowered my voice. 'I'm at a crime scene so if you've got a point, get to it.'

'I know you're looking for this guy. And I know where he is.'

'You do? Where?' I looked over at Purcell and waved at him.

'He's on the roof of my fucking club. I'm in my office and the fucker just slashed one of my men. Come and get him before my son sends some of the boys up to throw the fucker off it.'





CHAPTER FOUR





I went with Purcell while Andy Watt took DS Julie Stott. George Street was just minutes away. Two patrol cars and an ARU were in front.

I was driving the car as if I'd stolen it. I avoided a tram rolling east on Princes Street, and a patrol car kept back any traffic waiting to cross Hanover Street.

'Mind the hubcaps,' Purcell said, as I took the turn too fast. He was white-knuckling the Oh shit handle.

'Hubcaps are long gone, Percy,' I said, trying to make it look as if I'd made the tyres squeal on purpose.

'You're going back to the track for fucking training.'

I ignored him as I shot to the top of the road, as much as the stalled traffic would let me, and we turned right into George Street, where Robert Molloy's The Club was located. All the vehicles were grouped near the entrance. The street was blocked off now. I got out of the car with Purcell closely behind.

We saw Steven Hubbard standing on one edge of the roof, the large knife clearly visible in his hand.

Inside, there were few people as the business hadn't opened yet. Staff were preparing for lunch duties. I was led upstairs by one of Molloy's men, and the man himself was waiting in his office.

The ARU boys were in front and also bringing up the rear.

'About fucking time. I almost called the control room in Bilston,' Michael Molloy said, turning back from the window. 'I would have got a quicker fucking response if I'd reported a cat stuck up a tree.'

'Frank's not here to listen to you whinging,' Robert Molloy said.

'That fucker came in here and went for one of my men,' Michael said, as if he hadn't heard his father. 'We couldn't stop him. He's like he's on something, but if you lot don't get up there now, the next thing that tosser will be on is the fucking pavement.'

'That's not the sort of thing I want to be hearing,' Purcell said.

'I don't give a fu--' he started to say, but Robert put up a hand.

'We haven't had the pleasure, Superintendent, but as you no doubt already know, my son was attacked not that long ago, and this is still raw for him.' He turned to look at his son and shook his head. Fucking pavement the look said.

'How did he get up there?' Purcell asked.

'There's a maintenance door that leads up to the roof. We have some repairs going on so there's easy access.'

'How did he know how to get up there?' I asked, watching as Watt and Julie Stott came in.

'Oh, goody, there's more of you,' Michael said.

'Shut up,' his father answered. 'It was me who called them, remember? Fuckwit.' Robert turned back to me. 'If he was looking for an easy place to run up, maybe he thought this was it. Somebody looking for access to a roof doesn't really have to look far.'

It made sense.

My phone rang. I took the message from control in Bilston. Arthur Stevens, one of our negotiators was on his way. I hung up and told Purcell.

'We should make contact with him,' I said. Purcell agreed.

Robert instructed one of his men. 'Show these officers up to the roof.'

'I'll post men down here in case he starts to come back down,' Purcell said.

'No need,' Michael replied. 'He won't get past us a second time.'

'It wasn't a suggestion.'

Michael shrugged.

We left the room, being led by a gorilla in a suit. Through a series of corridors and up some stairs.

'The fire brigade are in attendance,' Julie said.

I nodded as I approached the door. 'You with me, Andy?'

'Right behind you, boss.'

'Frank, I can go first,' Purcell said.

'No need. You three can follow, but I want one of you armed boys right behind us. Out of sight but close.'

The two armed officers nodded, and I thought they looked as if they relished the idea of a bit of gunfire to liven up their morning.

I opened the door and was immediately assailed by the wind blowing across the rooftops.

Steven Hubbard was standing on the stone boundary wall that ran around the roof's edge. He had moved from the front of the building to the back.

'At last! You've come to play!' he shouted at me, waving the knife around.

'Knife,' I said, loud enough for Purcell to hear me. I heard him telling the armed boys to get up behind me.

'I'm here to talk to you, Steven. Why don't you step off that ledge and put the knife down?' It was a large knife, and if he ran at me I had to be sure to get my extendable baton out pretty quick. Or let the armed boys take him down.

We were at the south end of the building. The back of a hotel on Princes Street faced us. We were under a canopy of grey cloud, which looked menacing and full of ill will. Like the guy standing on the ledge.

I walked closer. I was on a terrace, which might have been more pleasant had this been a summer's day and I was sitting at a table with Kim, drinking a cold one. But I was freezing my nuts off.

Over on my left, sat a large, pyramid-shaped skylight. Hubbard was on my right, overlooking a small, private lane that ran up the side of Molloy's club. I knew it was there, but I didn't want to look over at it.

'What's your name?' Hubbard shouted.

I heard a scream from below as a pedestrian obviously looked up to see somebody standing on the ledge.

'I'm Detective Inspector Frank Miller.'

He laughed. 'Yes, sure you are. Where's the rest of them? The men you brought here.'

'They're waiting inside for us, Steven.'

'Stop calling me that! I left that name behind a long time ago. Why don't you step forward and we can talk about it?'

Christ. We trained for things like this, and trained again. One time we went to Redford Barracks in Colinton so we could practise riot training. The soldiers there were told to act as rioters and not hold back. Throw stuff at us as if it were the real thing.

It was hard, and they certainly did us proud, but training in such situations can only prepare us so much for the real world. Fear is our friend. Fear makes us sharp, keeps us alert, drives the adrenaline.

I felt the fear then. Not the sort of fear a member of the public might feel, but the fear that if I made a mistake, then my life might end. I wanted to think about Kim and Emma, but I had to drive them from my mind. Thinking about them would distract me, and that few seconds of distraction might very well give Hubbard the edge he was looking for.

I had confidence in the armed men who were in the stairway behind me, but again, we're talking seconds.

If Hubbard jumped off the ledge on my side, my baton would be out. And I knew how to use it. I would rather him die than me, so I would do all I could to defend myself. The old saying, better to be judged by twelve than to be carried by six was at the forefront of my mind.

'Come over here if you want!' he shouted at me, the knife pointing towards me, 'but I won't go back with you.'

'I just want to sit and have a chat, Steven. Nobody's going to harm you.'

'Damn fucking straight they're not, Zero. You think you know everything about me, but you don't know a fucking thing!'

Zero? What the hell was he talking about? His eyes were wild now, and I could see my chances of him coming off the edge were going down to... well, zero.

I wished the fucking negotiator would hurry up. I would be more than happy to hand things over to him so I could go and get myself a cup of coffee, but unless he was coming by helicopter, I was it.

'Who's Zero, Steven? I'm Frank remember.'

Christ I was getting colder by the minute. My face felt red and my nose was about to start running. As long as that was the only thing that was running.

'Yeah, right. He told me you were coming, but you and all the rest of them are going to get what's coming to you.'

He turned as if there was somebody coming up on his right, and he jumped down off the ledge onto the roof, slashing the knife through the air. Again and again.

I turned to the doorway to see Purcell looking out. Are you fucking seeing this as well as I am?

He nodded as if he could read my mind, or he was reassuring me the armed boys were about to be unleashed.

I only took my eyes off Hubbard for a split second, my hand going to the baton, which I took out. Now the time for tea and crumpets was gone. In its place was Put the knife down and let me see your fucking hands!

Hubbard slashed at the air, turning and jabbing as if there were a hoard of men rushing him.

Then he stopped as suddenly as he had started. And turned to look at me. There was a wildness about him, and I could see the deep breaths he was taking. Sucking in air after his exertion. Preparing himself for the next fight.

With me.

'Put the knife down,' I told him, tightening the grip on my baton, and with a flick of my wrist, extending it.

He smiled.

'I'm a police officer. I'm telling you to drop the knife.'

Purcell stepped out now. He'd already deployed his baton. This was the visual, Okay, we're here in number and we don't want to hurt you. But we knew we would hurt him, not through choice, but through survival.

'Let's do it!' he screamed at us and started running.

Then something happened that was so unexpected I had to think about it over and over as I was writing my report.

Hubbard ran towards us then swerved and jumped back onto the ledge.

'I'll be back for you, Zero! You won't be so lucky next time!'

He spread his arms out, looked at us briefly once more, and took a dive off the roof.





CHAPTER FIVE





Screams came from below, in the lane at the side of Molloy's club. I shouted 'No!' at the top of my voice as I ran to the ledge, hearing a multitude of feet running behind me.

'Fuck's sake,' Purcell said as we looked over. The armed boys appeared, as well as more uniforms, and we all looked over at Steven Hubbard lying in the skip below, amongst the building material detritus, half of his head remaining on the metal edge.

Andy Watt and Julie Stott looked as well.

'Better get the paramedics to him. Cover our own arses,' Purcell said.

Arthur Stevens appeared as I stood back. He was an older man, weathered and experienced. He took out a packet of cigarettes and lit one, the wind snatching at the smoke he blew out.

'As situations go, I've been at worse,' he said, walking over to me, the cigarette bobbing up and down as he spoke. 'You, get your arse over to Harvey Levitt. Tell him, boss.' He looked at Purcell for support as he took the cigarette out and held it between two fingers. 'There are things going to be running through your head now, whether you want them to or not, and I will testify that nothing you did or said was wrong. I got here just before he started shouting. He was going to take his own life no matter what.'

I was shaking. The cold or the adrenaline slow-down. Whichever one it was, I was already questioning if I could have done things differently. I was glad to be alive though, but it didn't stop me from feeling we could have done more.

Now was the time to start picking this guy's life apart.

And find out who Zero was.





**





Hubbard's place was a flat in Leith Walk. Which itself was a long street, connecting the centre of Edinburgh to what was once a separate borough, the Port of Leith. The street was lined with shops, which had flats above them. I loved the place, feeling it was almost a village within the city. You could get drunk, get a sunbed tan and go shopping in a Chinese supermarket, all without having to jump on a bus.

Some places in Edinburgh were slowly losing their identity, and for the most part, Leith Walk was still the same. Change was inevitable and I wondered what the city would be like fifty years from now.

The old Shrubhill bus depot was gone, the place where the last of the old Edinburgh trams ran from. Now the new ones were housed in a brand new depot on the west side of Edinburgh near the airport. Shrubhill had been an icon on Leith Walk for years, before the bus company moved out and it was torn down for housing. Same with the Social Work building next door.

'Christ, Edinburgh should be called Edinburgh 2.0,' Purcell said, from the driver's seat. Clearly he hadn't been impressed by my stunt driving skills earlier and had insisted he drive, Before you put us under a fucking bus.

'I'm sure Aberdeen is changing as well, Percy. Before you know it, it will be one big housing estate and there will be no countryside left.'

'You're not kidding. But it's nothing compared to Auld Reekie.' He looked in his mirror to see if the others were still following in the cars behind. A patrol car was in front, two vans behind, along with Watt and Julie. And the armed guys. We were going to breach the flat, just in case.

'You should have seen the place when they were digging the road up for laying the tram tracks. It was a nightmare and then they decided to stop the trams short up at York Place.'

'I read about that. And now they want several million more to extend the run down to Ocean Terminal, where it was supposed to run to in the first place.' He looked at me. 'We're in the wrong game, Frank. Obviously diddling the taxpayer is the way to riches.'

'I don't know about diddling, Percy. Fuck me, say that loud enough and somebody will be pulling strings so you're policing a lighthouse on the Faroe Islands.'

Purcell laughed. 'Fuck 'em. They all think we don't know what's going on. We just can't prove it, that's all.'

The patrol car pulled into the side of the kerb and Purcell stopped, double parking. I looked out the back window at the other police vehicles behind, and the blue lights came on.

Steven Hubbard's flat was in a slim, detached tenement, the front door tucked in between an athletic shop and a bookies.

We all piled out in force, the uniforms running in with the ARU boys. Up three levels, and the breacher smashed the ram against the door and it crashed back on its hinges. And then the armed boys did their stuff, which would have scared the shit out of me had I been sitting in front of the TV having a cup of tea.

The flat was clear.

We snapped on our sterile gloves.

The uniforms fanned out throughout the small flat. One of the team was taking photographs, but the forensics guy would do it in more detail later. Right now, we were looking for possible answers.

The TV was on. Paused. And it sent a chill through me as I looked. I nudged Purcell.

'Look at that.'

It took him a moment to see what I was seeing.

It was a video game. It had been paused at a point where some character or other was on the roof of a building. He was dressed in a suit, but the men who were coming after him were dressed in some kind of military uniform. He was holding a sword and was slashing at them.

The graphics on the game were good. Realistic. Certainly more realistic than when I was younger. Two men were obviously dead on the roof. Two more were advancing. It was night time, in an unknown city. The roof was slick with rain.

'Can you see a remote for this?' Purcell asked.

I saw a controller lying on top of an iPad. I opened the tablet and swiped to activate the screen. 'Look at this,' I said to Purcell. He peered at the screen. It was a video on YouTube, paused at the same point as the game was on the TV.

'I don't get it. You can play games on YouTube?' Purcell said.

'No, no. Emma does this sometimes when she gets stuck at a certain point in a game. Some YouTubers will play the game and video it and then upload it, so people can watch it. It's great when you're stuck, then somebody shows you how to advance in the game.'

I played the video on the iPad. The suit jumped off the wall onto the roof and started slashing at the military guys, killing them. Gunfire cracked in the background. The figure turned round as I played with the buttons.

'Now I see how you spend your Friday nights,' Purcell said, his eyes glued to the flat screen.

'It's called living with a six-year-old step-daughter.'

'I hear they're a lot better at this shit than a grown up.'

'Emma is.'

And then we both saw it. In the video game, the figure standing watching the suit.

The suit shouted something. 'Let's do it!' He started running towards the other figure then suddenly swerved and jumped back onto the ledge.

'I'll be back for you, Zero! You won't be so lucky next time!'

The character spread his arms out, looked back briefly and took a dive off the roof.

Just as Steven Hubbard had in real life.





CHAPTER SIX





We were getting a Chief Superintendent who would be the new Divisional Commander for Edinburgh, based beside us in the High Street. Jeni Bridge wasn't much older than Purcell but she had a wealth of experience. I had been expecting the woman to be the clichéd dragon, but she was far from it. Somebody had nicknamed her Rottweiler. She could be calm and friendly, but step out of line and you were on your way to getting a colonoscopy with a broom handle. But that was just a rumour, probably spread by jealous ex-colleagues who she had leap-frogged on her way up the career ladder.

It just so happened she was coming in to sort out her office that Friday, so she could be right into her job come Monday morning.

Purcell took me in to see her.

'Inspector Miller. I've heard all about you,' she said, smiling and shaking my hand.

'I hope it was all good.'

'I'm going to leave you guessing on that one. Please, sit down.' She looked at Purcell as I sat. 'Could you get us some coffee, Percy? I took the liberty of bringing in a Keurig.'

'Certainly.' He went over to the machine and switched it on, pottering about with mugs and the K cups.

Jeni made small talk while Purcell fiddled with the coffee, and he had three mugs ready in no time. Me? I used a kettle and wouldn't know how to switch a Keurig on, never mind find out where the little coffee pods went.

'This has been a terrible day,' Jeni said, as Purcell sat down.

'It certainly has,' I said, taking a sip of the coffee, which was pretty damn good.

'I'll read your report later, Frank, but give me a quick rundown on what happened this morning.'

So I did. We were already into the afternoon, but it seemed a lot longer.

'Video game?' she said. 'Do we know if he had any mental health issues?'

'We're going through all of that just now. It seems he suffered from depression after his father died. His mother is still alive and she said he kept to himself. Doctor Harvey Levitt is coming in shortly to go over this with us. Give us his professional opinion.'

'Who is this Levitt man?' she asked, as there was a knock on the door. Jeni shouted to enter, and DC Steffi Walker came in.

'DCI Gibb sent me to let you know Doctor Levitt is here.'

'Thank you...?'

'DC Steffi Walker, ma'am.'

'Sit down with us, DC Walker. I want to meet everybody personally and since you're here, you might as well stay.'

Steffi closed the door and sat down. Purcell turned round and held up a mug. She mouthed no thanks.

'So,' Jeni carried on, 'this man, Levitt.'

'Yes, he's the force psychologist. He works for the University of Edinburgh, but he's on our payroll. He's been used many times.'

'Ah yes, Percy did say something about the team going to see the force psychologist after witnessing the young man jumping off the roof.'

'Nobody likes doing it. They see it as a snub on their manhood.' I looked at Steffi. 'And womanhood.' If that was even a word.

'It has to be done though. Rules are rules.'

I should have that tattooed on my person somewhere, I've heard it so many times.

'But you were saying about a video game. Tell me more,' Jeni said.

I looked between the two women. 'There was a video game Steven Hubbard had been playing in his flat. Well, we're assuming it was him who was playing it. We don't know for a fact, but the events taking place in the game were mirrored in real life when he was on the roof of Robert Molloy's club. He even called me Zero.'

She raised her eyebrows in question.

'It's the name of the main character's nemesis in the game. It's about an assassin in a city where there's no more law and order. It's called Hitman Warrior: Zero's Return.'

Her eyes lit up at that point. Recognition kicked in. 'I've heard of that. My teenage daughter plays videos all the time. I recently bought that for her.' She looked at Steffi. 'It used to be dolls until she discovered Xbox.'

'I can't say I play video games myself, ma'am, but I have two brothers who do.'

Jeni looked at me. 'So what's the connection between this game and our murder?'

'The game was paused where the hitman was on the roof, just like Hubbard was. It was almost as if he'd put himself into the role of the video game character.' I told her about the iPad and YouTube. 'He mirrored the game.'

Jeni blew out a breath. 'So somehow, he got it into his head he was playing for real. How the hell does this happen?'

'I'm hoping Harvey Levitt can tell us.' I drank some of the coffee and made a mental note to buy one of those machines.

'Get me a report as soon as,' Jeni said. 'I'm starting officially on Monday morning. Have it on my desk by then.'

'Will do.'

'It's probably too early for toxicology results to be back from the lab,' she said, hoping for a No, I have them right here, but having to settle for You're right, it is too early.

'If he was on something that would explain a lot.' I wasn't convinced though. I'd seen people who were high, and Hubbard didn't fit the bill.

We'll soon find out.

'We've been interviewing everybody at his work who knew him to talk to, and they all said he kept to himself. He didn't have any workmates he went out drinking with. We're talking to neighbours, but it's the same story there too. As I said, his mother says he kept himself to himself.'

'Any girlfriend? Or boyfriend?'

'We don't think he was gay, and he didn't go out with any girl we know of. Casually or otherwise. He might have sought the company of men of course, but if he did, then neither his mother nor his colleagues knew about it.'

Jeni leaned back in her chair. It was then I realised she was in casual clothes, which didn't make a difference, but was probably going to be the only time I would see her without a suit on.

'Does his mother give the impression she would be lying for him?'

'What mother wouldn't?' I said. 'But she's elderly, and I didn't get that impression.'

'No history of aggression in the workplace?'

'No. They said you would hardly know he was there. He was always polite to people.'

'Jesus. Then he snapped one day and killed his boss. I suppose we're lucky in this country we don't have easy access to automatic weapons.'

'Unless you're a scally,' I said to her.

She gave a brief smile that was one of resignation rather than humour.

'I'd like to come down and listen to what Levitt has to say. You can introduce me to him afterwards.'

'Of course.'

The four of us left the office and went down to the incident room. Since this wasn't a murder enquiry where we were hunting a perpetrator, all we had do to was look for answers as to why he did what he did. See if we could learn anything from it.

My fiancée, Kim Smith, is an investigator with the Procurator Fiscal's office. Yes we work together. Yes, it's a pain at times, but we make it work. There are times when she's stuck in her little office in our investigation suite, just off the main incident room, but there are other times when we don't see each other professionally for weeks.

This wasn't one of those times.

Andy Watt was standing chatting with our new DS, Julie Stott. Moving from Glasgow CID, Julie had been with us for a month. In comparison, Steffi Walker was an old hand.

DCI Paddy Gibb stood in front of the room, talking with Harvey Levitt. Probably asking the doctor how best to give up smoking, although Levitt's area of expertise was the head. Maybe Gibb thought his head needed examining.

'Right, everybody here?' Gibb said. He made eye contact with everybody, as if he were doing a head count. Jeni Bridge stood at the back, not wanting to take away the focus from the investigation.

'Good. Most of you know Doctor Harvey Levitt, the force psychologist. He's going to give us his take on things.'

The slim, bearded man was very affable, and had helped me get through some rough times, but he was as sharp as a stick.

'Thank you all for being here, and listening to what Paddy here sometimes calls my drivel.'

He smiled as we laughed. Gibb looked over at Jeni as if to say, He just made that up.

'Without seeing the tox results, it's difficult to give you an exact opinion, but let me give you both sides of the story. If the killer was on something, and by his neurosis, it would be some kind of amphetamine, then his behaviour could certainly have been one of detachment. His mind had placed him somewhere else and he was acting out a role that wasn't real life.'

Jeni looked at him. 'So what would make him do that if the tox results come back negative?'

'Psychosis. Bipolar disorder, perhaps, which used to be known as manic depression. I've been told the Procurator Fiscal is asking to see his medical records, but we don't know at this moment if the subject was indeed afflicted by this. However, his mother did say he had suffered from mild depression after the subject's father died, but then he seemed fine after '

'And that sort of thing would make him do what he did?' I asked.

Levitt turned his attention to me. 'It affects different people in different ways, but for this man, yes, it could have made him so introverted the only way he could have come out was through the video game character. It's not typical, but it can happen.'

'He was a time-bomb waiting to go off,' Julie said. She was a confident young woman and I had noticed her and Steffi Walker getting along well. And Hazel Carter had taken them both under her wing, being the most experienced detective out of the three of them.

'It could be. It happens to people all the time. They've studied people in America, workers who suddenly become active shooters, bringing a gun to work and killing their co-workers.'

And that was that. We would just have to wait and interview anybody else we could think of to see if Hubbard was a closet psychopath.

As it turned out, the tox screen came back negative. By the end of the working day on Friday, we knew whatever had gotten into Steven Hubbard, it wasn't any drugs. Nor was he psychotic. He'd been suffering from depression after the death of his father, but his mother said he had picked himself up after a while. Nothing that millions of people suffered from every day.

So what had made him kill somebody before killing himself?





CHAPTER SEVEN





'Don't wait up,' Chip Haines said to his wife.

'Why? Aren't you coming straight home?'

'Now, if I was, I wouldn't have just told you to not wait up.' He smiled a sarcastic smile as he pulled on his jacket.

Wendy knew he stood in front of the full length mirror and adjusted the belt with his gun on it. After twenty-five years, he still got a kick out of looking at himself in the mirror with his full kit on.

'Where are you going?'

He was smiling at himself, but wasn't smiling when he turned to her. 'One of the boys is having a poker game at his house.'

'Which one?'

'Which boy or which house?'

'Don't be a wise ass.'

'Christ, Wendy, what is this? The Spanish Inquisition?'

'I was just asking, that's all. You've been going out a lot recently.'

He stared at her for a few seconds. 'After what we've been through, I just need to have a distraction.'

'Some distraction, drinking, gambling and--'

'And what?'

'And staying out late.' She was going to say whoring but stopped herself.

'It's my life.'

With that, he left the house to start his 3-11 shift. She had liked it better when he worked the early shift, 7-3, but three months ago, he'd chosen the back shift instead. Another nail in the coffin they called their marriage.

Wendy was a teacher in a private nursery and went back to finish her own job with a heavy heart. She'd read about couples going stale, but she never thought she'd have it happen to her. She wished she'd never come to New York now, and had stayed back home in Connecticut when she was younger.

Things had been even more strained since Ryan had come home from college last summer. He was finding it hard to find a job, although Chip accused him of being a slacker. Ryan had been for interviews, but nobody had picked him up. He wasn't even interested in flipping burgers or working in Bed, Bath and Beyond. Retail work wasn't for him, he said.

Wendy hated it when her husband and son got into a fight, but it was always her fault for not taking Chip's side and for babying Ryan. She was a mother, it was what mother's did.

It wasn't all the fights they'd had in the last nine months, but her husband's new after work activity played on her mind all through her shift. And all through dinner as she ate by herself again. And all through Jeopardy. And through the movie she was watching on Netflix. Ironically, it was about a woman whose husband had cheated on her.

Ryan was down in the basement, watching TV on the big screen all night.

She was already in bed, ready to put the light out when she knew she had to go out. Ryan was still downstairs. She told him she had to go out for a bit but she wouldn't be long. He told her he was tired and would be going to bed shortly.

Dressing in old sweatpants and sweatshirt--Yeah, that'll look attractive if he sees you, girl!--she drove out to the police station in Newburgh. She couldn't park in the front public lot, so she parked next door in the lot of what used to be the police station-cum-courthouse-cum-town hall. Now it was just the building permit office and fire inspector's office. It was well-lit and some of the official cars were parked there.

Wendy parked next to an old-model Jeep Grand Cherokee with Fire Marshall written on the door. Her car was inconspicuous, and if any of her husband's colleagues stopped to ask what she was doing, she would tell him or her she was waiting for Chip. They wouldn't question her, as most of them knew her.

So she sat and waited, with the lights out, listening to 90s on 9 on her Sirius XM. She liked the 80s as well, but they were playing some romantic songs and it made her want to cry.

Just after eleven, she saw cars start to come out. Chip's was the fourth. Maybe he had called his girlfriend before he left. Then she told herself to stop thinking this way. She wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but she'd read if your spouse starts to suddenly change their habits, then there's a good chance they're seeing somebody else.

So she drove behind Chip's Ford Explorer in her Toyota. Luckily for her, there were plenty of these cars about, and the streets weren't lit around here.

Chip drove up to Route 300 and turned right. She followed, thinking about what buddy's house he could be going to. She knew most of the officers, and Chip was close to the guys on his shift. It wasn't a huge department, with only forty-three staff on, which meant they got close.

And she had socialised with many of the wives and girlfriends of the other officers. So she knew where most of them lived.

And when Chip turned down a street in a nice part of Fostertown, she couldn't think who lived there. Chip pulled into a driveway. She had no choice but to drive past. Then she saw a house with no cars in the drive and no lights on. She pulled in and turned the engine off, cutting the headlights. She thought Chip would be too preoccupied to notice nobody got out of the car.

She watched as security lights came on. Then lights behind the glass in a front door. And then a woman answered. She was obviously pleased to see him as she hugged him. Maybe she was the one going to be dealing the cards.

Wendy sat in her car and cried. She'd been a good wife and mother and this was how he treated her. She put the car into reverse and backed out of the stranger's driveway. Put her headlights on and drove home. Although it wasn't home anymore was it? It was merely the house she and her husband shared.

She sat in her own driveway, feeling more lonely than she'd felt in her entire life. She walked up the stairs to her front door. She'd left the TV on to make it sound as if somebody was home, even though Ryan had been downstairs.

She expected to see the basement lights off, but they were still on. She thought her son had probably fallen asleep, so she walked down to the next level. The TV was on, but the sound was low. They had a spare room down here and another bathroom.

'Ryan, you in there?' she said outside the bathroom door. No answer.

She opened the bedroom door and switched the light on.

Then she screamed and screamed.





CHAPTER EIGHT





It had been nearly three weeks since Steven Hubbard had hurled himself off the roof and the press had moved on to a politician who had been sexting an underage girl.

Bruce Hagan was a DS in my team and Hazel's other half. He was missing three fingers and an ear after being attacked by a killer, and was on a slow road to recovery. It wasn't the physical injuries that bothered him, but the mental ones. He'd been on long-term sick for nearly nine months.

That Saturday afternoon, we went for a pint.

'Christ, Frank, I wish to God they would let me back on the team. I'm going off my fucking head at home. The baby goes to day-care, Jane's at school, and all I have to look forward to is watching daytime TV. I sometimes wish the bastard had killed me.'

We were sitting in Tanner's bar in Juniper Green. It was a great little local bar for Bruce, being only minutes' walk from Barberton Mains where he and Hazel lived.

'I want you back on the team, Bruce,' I said.

'But?'

'But nothing.'

'Come on, boss, spit it out for fuck's sake.'

I swallowed some more lager. 'Well, it's all this talk about wishing how he'd killed you that's stopping you, Bruce. You want the truth that's it right there in a nutshell. You're blowing your own chances.'

'What? Pish. I just get fed up that's all.'

'I can't imagine what you went through--'

'Damn straight you can't,' he said, interrupting me.

'As I was saying, I can't imagine it, but it couldn't have been that bad.'

We were in a corner near the front of the pub. It was quiet with only a few blokes sitting near the bar.

'What do you fucking mean, It couldn't have been that bad?'

'I'm just saying, Bruce. You have it made now; you have Hazel, you have the kids. What more do you want?'

'I want to stop fucking dreaming about what he did to me! That's what I fucking want.'

'You're seeing a psychologist. Surely she's helping you. Or don't you want help? I think you just want to throw yourself a pity party. Have everybody say, Oh, look at poor Bruce. Well, I'm not saying that, because I don't pity you.'

'A fucking pity party? If you weren't my fucking boss, I'd knock--' He didn't finish his sentence. He just sat there and slumped his shoulders. 'Now I see what you're doing. I react just like that with the psychologist too. Jesus, I'm sorry. I just get angry. I want to throttle the bastard who did this.'

'He's dead, Bruce. You're alive. You won. Take that as first prize and go and piss on his grave. Don't let the bastard win, not when he's not even around to see it.'

'You're right, of course. Sometimes I think I need a good kick up the arse. And I think you just gave it to me.'

'I want you back on my team, Bruce, but the brass are not going to let you come back until you can prove you won't beat the shit out of anybody who pisses you off.'

He drank some lager. Then looked at me. 'I've been a silly sod. All this time in therapy and all it takes is one good drink with you to make me understand.'

'It's going to take a little bit more than that, but now I think you're on the right road. Work at it, and I promise you you'll be back with us.'

'I've been working hard at it. Jill, my therapist, has told me she's pleased with my progress. I only see her once a week now. The doc has taken me off my meds. When I get stressed, I can work through it on my own now without popping some pills.'

'I'm glad to hear it.'

'I'm going to make this work. I thought I was finished as a copper. The more I thought like that, the more I felt down. I couldn't pick myself up.'

'And now we know you can.'

'You're not just my boss, you're a good friend.'

When I got back home, Kim told me Jack was over at Samantha's flat and he wanted me to go over.

I knocked on the door and Jack shouted to me that the door was open.

When I went in, Sam was sitting on the couch, crying her eyes out, with Jack's arm around her shoulders. She was getting hysterical again.

'What's wrong, Dad?' I said, feeling myself tense up.

'Sam just got bad news from her sister. Her nephew Ryan died last night.'

Saying the words out loud made Sam cry even harder.

'Sorry, love,' Jack said.

'Good God, I'm so sorry to hear that, Sam. Is there anything I can do?'

'Make sure the apartment is okay, son. Sam has to go home to be with her sister. I'm going with her. I got us a flight on British Airways leaving tomorrow morning, via Heathrow. We'll have to pack some stuff.'

'Will do.' I wanted to ask how he died, but was sure my father would tell me later on. 'What time does your flight leave?'

'Ten to seven, then the Heathrow flight leaves at nine forty. We get there just before one, local time, so it'll be six here. A couple of hours or so to get through customs and up to Newburgh. Should be about eight, your time.'

'Call me and let me know what's happening.'

'I will. I'll leave all the details later.'

'I'll drive you to the airport tomorrow.'

'Thanks.'

'I'll leave you both to it.'

Sam stood up then and put her arms around me and held me tight. 'Thank you so much for caring.'

'You're family, Sam. Although you and Jack aren't married, you're still family to us.'

She let me go and smiled a weak, watery smile.

I went back home and told Kim what had happened. 'Jesus, that's rough. Poor thing. I hope she knows we're here for her.'

'I told her, but they're leaving for New York in the morning.'

She was thoughtful for a moment before going into the kitchen. 'Since you're cooking, I ordered Chinese.'

'Did you hear that, Emma?' I shouted through to the living room where Kim's daughter was playing with Charlie, our cat. 'Your mum doesn't like my cooking.'

'I heard her, Frank. And it's been noted. It wouldn't surprise me if she's already on Santa's naughty list.'

'Well, just keep up with your homework to make sure you're not on it.'

'Let's not be silly. Santa knows I'm a good girl.'

I laughed, then my thoughts went back to Sam and my laughter drifted away.

'Life goes on, honey,' Kim said to me. 'We can laugh and love and still remember people who aren't with us anymore.'

I wasn't sure if she was referring to my deceased wife or Sam's nephew. Either way, she was right. For those of us left behind, life goes on.





CHAPTER NINE





Jack felt tired as they picked up their cases from the carousel at JFK. He had wound his watch back five hours. 'Now we get to live the last five hours all over again,' he said. 'Who says there's no such thing as time travel?'

Samantha smiled but wasn't in the mood. He pulled the cases as they headed through customs. As Samantha showed both passports to the customs officer--her American one on top--he looked them over quickly.

'Just the two of you?' he asked, as a drug-sniffing Beagle was making the rounds.

'Yes,' she answered.

'Welcome home,' he said, handing the passports back. Then he saw a lone traveller with a passport from God knows where, and she heard the officer asking to look through the man's case.

'I should have brought some Haggis through,' Jack said.

'It's not always that easy. And as much as I love you, I don't want to see you behind bars for smuggling in Haggis, even if it is your national dish.' This time she smiled a tired smile. 'It is still banned in this country.'

Jack had booked a Chevy Tahoe SUV and they weren't long getting the paperwork done at Enterprise, then it was on the road. It was sunny although still cold in New York State, so the drive was uneventful.

Almost two hours after landing, they were at the Marriott off Route 17K. Overlooking the runways for Stewart International Airport.

As Jack started to unpack, Samantha called her sister from the room's phone, and started crying all over again. Half an hour later, they were driving to Wendy's house.

It was in a quiet neighbourhood in the Town of Newburgh, not far from Orange Lake and only minutes from the hotel. Jack saw the sign for Gold's Gym and wondered if Wendy and her family used it.

Rock Cut Road was an area of working class homes, a lot of people commuting every day, taking the ferry across the Hudson to connect with the train at Beacon. Manhattan was less than two hours away. As Wendy and Chip worked locally, neither of them had to worry about the commute.

They lived in a detached, bi-level on a fairly large lot. Woods were behind them and on the other side of the road, and there were some sparse trees between them and their neighbours.

'Wendy said Chip liked the privacy of this house when they bought it,' Samantha said, as they pulled into the driveway. The double garage was integral at the side of the house. 'It was private without being too isolated.'

'It's a nice place,' Jack said, parking the Tahoe. When they had been over to NYC back at Christmas time, Wendy and Chip had come down to the city to spend time with them. They had promised the next time they were in New York they would come up to Newburgh to visit. Little did he know the next time he visited, their lives would be altered.

Samantha reached over and squeezed his hand. 'This year is going to get better for us. After I was such an idiot last year, thinking you could have done that to me.' She shook her head. 'I am so sorry, Jack.'

'You have nothing to be sorry about. We can't change the past, but we can look forward to the future.'

They both saw Chip open the front door and walk down the wooden steps from their porch onto the stone pathway that led to the garage. He was in his late-forties but the last day or so had aged him.

Samantha got out and met him, and hugged him, as Jack got out and walked to meet the man who may or may not become his brother-in-law one day.

'Chip. I wish we were meeting under better circumstances, my friend.' He shook Chip's hand.

Chip only nodded, as if he were trying to keep his emotions in check. 'Come in. I have the coffee pot going. Wendy's inside. She's a basket case.'

Inside, the house was warm. Wendy was sitting on the couch and jumped up as if something had bitten her as Jack and Samantha walked in. She rushed over to her sister and they held each other.

Chip went away to make coffee and came back with a couple of mugs a few minutes later.

Wendy was drying her eyes. She took her mug and sipped at the hot liquid.

'I'm so sorry, Wendy,' Jack said. 'This was awful news for us.'

Chip handed the second mug he was holding over to Samantha.

'How was it awful news for you, Jack?' he said, his face darkening. 'You didn't know Ryan. Never met him. How the fuck would it be awful for you?'

Jack felt his face reddening slightly, but he had been in this situation many times before, when he'd had to deliver the news to a family that a loved one was gone. 'I'm here for Samantha.'

'Oh, another nice little vacation for you, is that it? It must be nice jet-setting on somebody else's dime.'

Jack saw Samantha's eyes widen just before she stood up. 'You listen to me, Chip Haines; we came over here at Christmas after Jack paid for us both. Yesterday, I asked him to come with me as I didn't feel like making this journey alone. Jack paid for the airline tickets. Jack paid for the hotel. Jack paid for that fucking Chevy out there for us to ride around in for as long as we need to be here. So cut the crap. We don't need to hear this.'

'Well, aren't you the big man? Big, Scottish Detective. Well, you aren't the only one who's a fucking cop round here!'

'Chip!' Wendy shouted.

'You know what? I don't need you sniffing round here. My wife and I will be fine without you. Samantha the fucking big shot and this big fuck--'

Jack stepped in front of him. 'You've said enough.'

'You talking to me like that in my own home?'

'Listen, son, I've been toe-to-toe with a lot harder fuckers than you. You don't want this, I can assure you. You're upset, I can see that, but keep yourself in order.'

'Who do you think you are?'

'I'm the man who would go to prison for her.'

Chip was about to say something else, but sneered instead and stormed out, grabbing a jacket on the way. A few minutes later, he was screeching out of their driveway and took off towards Route 52.

'I'm sorry about that, Wendy,' Jack said, stepping back from the window.

'It's not your fault,' Wendy said. 'We're going our separate ways soon.'

'God, no,' Samantha said. 'Things are strained right now, but you have to be strong for each other.'

Wendy looked at her. 'It's not Ryan being dead that caused this. Chip's off to see his girlfriend. He was with her last night as well.'

'Girlfriend?'

Wendy sniffed and used her paper hanky again. 'I don't know how long it's been going on, but it's a while now.'

'Jesus, I'm so sorry,' Jack said.

'Twenty-five years we've been together. He has one more year as a cop then he can retire. We had plans for our future, but they've all gone now.'

'I know this is gonna hurt talking about Ryan like this, but where did they take him?' Samantha said.

'The Orange County Medical Examiner is based in Goshen.' Wendy looked at Jack. 'About twenty miles from here.'

'Have they done the autopsy yet?'

Wendy nodded. 'Yesterday. It was an overdose, but they won't get the tox samples back for a few days. They can tell, apparently.'

Samantha clasped her sister's hand. 'Did you know he was taking anything?'

'No! That's what's so strange about all of this. I know he was a bit down after leaving college. He was a qualified engineer. He just couldn't get a job right now. He kept saying he was waiting for the right one to come along. He graduated last summer, but he seemed upbeat. He had his friends, and they played around with their cars. He had everything to live for.'

Jack looked out the living room window. Thought back to when his own son was growing up and all he had to worry about was Frank drinking underage. He turned back to the women.

'Would you mind if I had a look round downstairs? Samantha said Ryan was down there when you found him.'

'No, go ahead. Second door on the right. There's a light switch just inside.'

He was glad she didn't question him. And he couldn't quite put his finger on it, and thought it was the detective in him, but he wanted to see the place for himself. Not out of morbid curiosity, but to run a professional eye over it.

The basement level was what they called a finished basement. Made into a usable space, unlike some other houses that weren't finished and owners used the space for storage.

It was big, taking up one half of the lower level, the other half taken up by the integral garage. There was a main TV room with a large screen sitting against one wall with a sectional couch facing it. A pool table sat over in one corner, with a little bar near it. Sliding glass doors were on the back wall. Over on the right were three doors; a closet for keeping cleaning materials in, a full bathroom,and a spare bedroom where Ryan died.

By habit, Jack always carried a nitrile glove with him. It was a habit he'd tried to kick, but it was almost like breathing for him. He pulled it out and used it to turn the door handle and open the door.

The smell of death hit him first. The room was a mess. The sheets had been thrown back. Paramedics had left their own nitrile gloves on the floor. He moved around the room, opening drawers in a small chest of drawers, but finding only winter sweaters.

A wardrobe held only winter jackets. A little night stand had a clock radio and a lamp on it. A paperback was in the only drawer. There were no burn marks on the carpet or any sign of white powder. He looked in a small rubbish bin. It had a couple of dead AA batteries, but nothing else. No cotton buds, cut cigarette filters, lighters, pen parts or straws. No burnt foil. There were no black smudge marks on the light switch or door handle.

He went into the bathroom and checked there as well, finding nothing. No signs Ryan had been in here shooting up.

After walking around searching the place for another ten minutes, he went back upstairs and asked Wendy if he could look in Ryan's room.

This room was more cluttered. He saw a glasses case and opened it, but it contained nothing more than a pair of sunglasses. After spending another fifteen minutes going through the whole room, he went back to the women.

'Wendy,' he said, sitting down on the couch and looking at her, 'can I ask you a few questions about Ryan?'

'Sure.' Her voice was thick with emotion, and when Jack looked over at his girlfriend, he was glad to see she wasn't looking quizzically at him. She understood.

'Did he seem to be losing weight?'

'No.'

'Frequent colds or being ill?'

'No.'

'Did he seem anxious, or did you notice a change in his personality?'

'No.'

'Poor hygiene or sudden hair loss?'

'No.'

'Change in routine or was he sleeping badly?'

'No.'

'Was he suddenly isolating himself, in urgent need of money or maybe nodding off?'

'No.'

'Did he wear long sleeves in warm weather?'

All her questions were answered with no hesitation. Although some family members couldn't give a toss about their kids, he could tell Wendy had, and she would have noticed something.

'Sorry, it's just the detective in me.'

She smiled at him and started chatting with Samantha again, her hanky never far away from her nose.

It was only then that Jack thought Ryan had been murdered.





CHAPTER TEN





'You got that soup ready?' Chef Cogliarri said to her.

'Yes. It's almost done.'

'Almost isn't good enough. We open at twelve! You are a disgrace to my kitchen! Get a move on!'

It was pumpkin soup with coconut and lime added. It wasn't mixing rocket fuel, Mel Carpenter thought as she put the finishing touches to the large pot.

Cogliarri always added a little hint of Italian to his accent. She'd overheard him telling the restaurant manager one day that he was originally from some small, Italian village where his grandmother taught him how to cook. Which flew in the face of reality. She'd heard from one of the other chefs Cogliarri was in fact from Maryhill.

'When's the queen coming?' she asked the head chef, who had turned his back on her.

'What did you say?' Which came out as, What deed you say?

'I asked when the queen was expected. You know the prince doesn't like to be kept waiting.'

The chef looked at her as some of the others had stopped working. 'Back to work!' he shouted at them, before turning his attention back to the insolent young girl standing before him.

'Are you trying to be funny?' he said, leaning in closer. His breath was stale, and she looked at the beginnings of stubble spreading across his jowls.

'Of course not. But if the Royal party turns up and things aren't ready, his Lordship will be handing you your notice. Don't say you weren't warned, matey.'

She walked away, heading along the corridor that led to the pantries.

Cogliarri was dumfounded. 'Get back to work!' he shouted again, but everybody had already got back to work.

Mel was in one of the pantries but she didn't know what she was looking for. Then she heard the door open and the head chef came in.

'What the fuck was all that about, you stupid cow?' he said, but she was nowhere to be seen. He could have sworn she had come in here. She was small, so maybe she was behind one of the higher racks. He walked back farther, looking between the racks, along each narrow aisle.

'Mel! Get your arse out here!' There was no Italian now, just pure Glaswegian.

'I know you're working for the other side!' she said.

Cogliarri spun round and saw her standing before him.

'What the fuck is wrong with you, you stupid bitch?' he said.

She pulled the front of the rubber apron down and pulled her chef's shirt open, exposing her naked breasts. Cogliarri stared at them for a few seconds, and his focus was on them, not the tin Mel had in her hand. She raised it and squirted it at him. Too late, he lifted a hand but the lighter fluid tore into his eyes, burning them. He screamed as she stepped forward with the lighter.

'Nothing personal, but I have to protect the queen. I'm one of Her Majesty's agents.' Cogliarri didn't hear her words as his hands scrabbled at his own face. Then Mel flicked the lighter and she held it to the chef's jacket, its flame still burning as it hungrily sought out the fluid that covered the man.

Mel had turned and buttoned herself up. She kicked over one of the containers that now held more gasoline, the liquid having been brought in days ago and stored in these containers for this very purpose.

She ran out, closed the door behind her, and locked it. There was a window in the door and she looked through it, watching as the man screamed, his face and body on fire. He came up to the door, his skin melting, his screams seeping through.

She'd put containers of cooking oil in the corridor next to the boxes of fruit and veg that had been delivered that morning. Nobody questioned it as they were going to be using them at lunchtime. She also stored a lot of the paper bags the food had been delivered in. Now, she emptied the cooking oil onto the papers and lit them.

She unscrewed the tops of more containers, kicking them over, again being careful not to let the flammable liquid touch her.

Another lighter, another fire.

She hurried through to the kitchen. 'Fire! Fire!' she screamed, and the others started running and panicking when they saw the corridor go up in flames.

She ran over to a counter top where a large knife was sitting.

'What's going on, Mel?' one of the chefs said.

'The whole place is going up,' she said, and as the man looked over her shoulder, she picked up the knife and rammed it in. His eyes went wide. She pulled out the knife and rammed it in again. He fell to his knees and she kicked him over, throwing the knife to one side.

The fire alarms were going off now. She needed to hurry.

The restaurant manager came down just before they opened, as he always did. He saw the young chef on the floor, lying on his front and moaning.

'What's happening?' he screamed, then he saw the flames for himself. 'Help me get him to his feet!' he shouted, pointing to the chef.

Mel grabbed his hair and spun him round, shoving his face into the huge pan of boiling soup, holding onto him as he fought back. Then she just as quickly pulled him back. Soup dripped off his face, as did his skin. She picked up another knife and rammed it into his guts. He screamed like a dying animal, and Mel threw him aside. He collapsed on top of the chef.

Mel ran for the stairs. She had to get to the train station.

The crowds were thick. Patrons of the restaurant, hotel guests and staff were all being ushered out of the hotel onto the North Bridge.

All they saw was a woman wearing chef's whites. Casually walking along in the middle of the road as traffic was being disrupted by the crowd of people rushing to get out of the burning building.





CHAPTER ELEVEN





'Happy birthday, Mummy!' Emma shouted, as she rushed into the kitchen with Kim's gift. A plush, toy cat. Something I suspected Emma would get more fun out of than Kim would.

'Thank you, honey.'

I held out the large package I had for her and placed it on the kitchen table. 'Happy birthday.' I gave her a peck on the cheek, watching as Emma screwed up her face.

'Thank you.' She opened the cat first and then the leather jacket I'd bought her. She tried it on and gave the little toy a squeeze.

'Wow, twenty-nine. Another year and you can say you're in your thirties, like me.'

'At least I'll be a married woman by then.'

Getting married again at twenty-nine was fine, she said, but the big three-oh, not so much. The state of my life and Hell would very much have similarities should I not get into the spirit of exchanging vows, she'd told me one night.

I know it was wrong to compare Kim to Carol, and I didn't do it often now, but sometimes something would come into my head and I would find myself thinking of her. She would have been a few months older than Kim, had she lived long enough. My smile slipped for a moment and it must have showed.

'You okay, Frank?'

I smiled harder. 'Of course.'

I could see in her eyes she didn't believe me, but she let it go. Emma had already left to go and see if Charlie wanted to play before she had to go to school.

'Are we still going out for a meal tonight?' she said.

'Yes we are. And if McDonald's is busy, there's a good chippie I know down on Broughton Street.'

'Wow. You certainly know how to impress a lady, Frank. And here was me going to impress you. I might have to revise that plan.'

'You always impress me, Kim.'

'Too late, tightwad. Now you'll have to earn it.'

'Oh boy. I suppose I'll have to take you somewhere they sit down to eat now.'

'Smartarse,' she said, laughing. Then she put her arms around my neck and kissed me.

I gently pulled away from her. 'Okay, future Mrs. Miller, I have to get ready for work.'

'Me too. My dad said he'll pick up Emma on his way home from the office. Then we can go to Pizza Hut downstairs then come back upstairs for a good bit of how's your father.'

'Really?'

'No. Pizza Hut means fun time will be suspended until further notice.'

'You drive a hard bargain, Miss Smith.'

'It's Mrs. Smith actually. I kept his name even after I divorced him.'

'Being right all the time must be tiresome for you. I'll see you later.'

Turned out I saw her much sooner than I expected.





**





Later that morning, I had put on my overcoat to step out for lunch with Andy Watt and Julie Stott. We were about to leave the office when the call came through. A hotel fire on the North Bridge. It was the Hilton Edinburgh Carlton.

Of course, patrol cars would be on the scene, and traffic would be diverted and crowd control would be implemented. Nothing for MIT, or so I thought.

But we were going to get involved. Hazel Carter grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair. 'There's a jumper on the North Bridge,' she said.

'And they're requesting us?'

'She appears to be a chef, she has soot marks on her uniform and the place is going up like a--'

'House on fire?' I said. Hazel didn't laugh but shook her head. If I was her husband, she would have inserted the word Twat at the end of her sentence, I'm sure. But I'm not. I'm her boss, but I knew I was skating on thin ice.

'Watt, you can come with me,' DCI Gibb said.

'As long as I can drive, Grandpa,' he said under his breath.

'What?'

'I said, the traffic will be backed up.'

'Is that what he said?' Gibb asked me.

'I think so,' I said, shooting Watt a look. 'Okay, let's get round there. I'll take Steffi and Julie. Two cars. Let's not scare the girl. She might be in shock, so let's give her the benefit of the doubt. Let's go. Julie, with me.'

And so we went round to the North Bridge, literally thirty seconds from the station on a normal day, but it was a few minutes as we skirted round the first fire engines to attend. What traffic was on the bridge heading for the High Street was now stuck. Uniforms couldn't turn the traffic round for the woman standing on the ledge.

We didn't have our sirens on, and we didn't drive as if we were racing. We just pulled into the side of the road and got out of the cars.

She was on the Balmoral side, with views over Waverley station to the west. The Bank of Scotland HQ was up on the Mound over to our left. The castle ahead. The Scott Monument poked up from Princes Street like an accusing finger. If this woman had climbed up to take a photograph of Edinburgh city centre, she couldn't have chosen a more perfect spot. But she wasn't there for a photo shoot. She had other things on her mind.

Over on the other side, an east wind blew in from the North Sea unabated, ruffling her hair and blowing her white uniform. She had climbed onto the side by the stone wall that held the North Bridge plaque, and was staring into space.

I scuffed my shoe on the pavement before I got too close to her, not wanting to get up close to her without her knowing I was there. She turned round and looked at me.

And smiled.

'You're late,' she said. Then stared back towards the castle. I looked over at Julie, who didn't take her eyes off the woman.

'Can you come down here and we can talk?' I said. Arthur Stevens had been called and I was glad to see his car pull up. He got out of the car and patted down his pockets as if he couldn't find his cigarettes.

Fuck me, Arthur, I thought. If this girl had indeed been close to the fire in the hotel, then the last thing she needed to see was somebody pulling out a lighter.

Thankfully, he pulled out his phone.

Watt, Gibb, and Hazel were farther down from us. 'Come down and we'll get you a nice cup of tea,' Gibb said. 'Get you warmed up.'

She ignored him and turned towards us again. I saw stitching on her breast pocket. Mel. The other side had the hotel's name on it. But it was the blood that covered the front that drew most of my attention. A crowd of onlookers had started to gather down at the Princes Street side, being held back by a diligent uniform and police tape.

'Can I call you Mel?' I asked her. 'My name's Frank.'

'I thought you would have been here sooner. You promised, and now that place is on fire. I think I might have done it,' she said.

Christ, I didn't want her to start confessing now, not until we were recording it, or Norma Banks, the PF, wouldn't be able to have it admissible. I hoped Arthur Stevens had his phone on record mode.

'Mel?' Stevens said, walking up close to me. 'Do you think we could talk?'

She smiled at him. 'Of course we can. You're the lord's new footman, aren't you? I've seen you around town before.'

Oh shit. Flashbacks to Steven Hubbard standing on Robert Molloy's roof hit me then.

'That's right, I am. I have a message for you.'

She brightened at this. 'What is it? Has the queen arrived?'

'She's nearly here,' Stevens said, taking a step closer. 'She wants you to be waiting for her. If you let me help you down, we can both go and meet her.'

'Why are you here? Shouldn't you already be at the palace?'

'I was sent for you. We can all go together.'

'I burned the palace. It was a trap. They wanted her there, but I made sure there was nothing left for the queen to go to. Now she can safely come back with me.'

Mel's smile dropped and she looked towards the castle again. 'I must hurry. Whatever would the queen say if I were late again? And my father. He would be so disappointed.'

'Let me help you down, Mel,' I said, but didn't move towards her.

'No, follow me. I know a quick way,' she said, and stepped off the edge.

Julie screamed. Or maybe it was Arthur, I couldn't be sure. Steffi Walker rushed forward and tried to leap up onto the parapet, but Hazel held her back. One slip, and she would have been over as well. Julie was more cautious when she approached.

'Arthur, grab my belt,' I said to him as I got my belly up onto the edge. Stevens held on as I looked down onto the glass roof of Waverley station. Mel had smashed a few panels of glass as she hit them, and the steel frames had smashed her before she fell through the gap onto the platform below, where her skull was caved in.

Screams from below. Screams from above. 'Right, Arthur,' I said, and felt the negotiator's grip on me loosen.

'Two in the space of a month,' Stevens said, pulling out his cigarettes. I wondered if he was in competition with Paddy Gibb, to see who could get a hacking cough first. Stevens coughed, to let me know he was in the lead.

'Let's get down there,' I said. Whoever that poor girl was, she deserved our best attention. That was my initial thought.

Until we discovered what Mel Carpenter had done.





CHAPTER TWELVE





Down in the train station below, nobody else was hurt by Mel jumping off the bridge, except for a few cuts from flying glass.

'There's nothing we can do at times,' Arthur Stevens said, which smacked of covering his own arse.

The young girl had landed on the road next to a platform. It had taken a while for forensics and the pathologist to get there. The city centre had ground to a halt as fire-fighters took care of the hotel above us.

Jeni Bridge came down. She had settled into her position well, which wasn't surprising as she had the same role in Glasgow.

'Christ I could do with a fag,' she said to Stevens, hinting that she would settle for one out of his packet if he was dishing, but he wasn't biting. She looked at me. 'I don't want to hear how bad it is for my health, or how expensive they are nowadays. I'm addicted to the damn things, Frank. Deal with it.'

'I wasn't going to say a word, ma'am.' Which was a lie; I was going to tell her the head of forensics--DI Maggie Parks--would chew her a new arsehole if she caught her smoking near a crime scene and flicked the butt away. And that was exactly how it would be treated until all the evidence was gathered. Norma Banks wouldn't want any Ts left uncrossed on this one.

'What the hell makes them do it?' she said. A sheet, surrounded by a forensic screen, covered what was left of the girl called Mel. Blood spattered across the tarmac, seeping out from under the sheet.

'She was acting out of the ordinary, just like Steven Hubbard,' I said, by way of explanation.

'Something set her off. Paddy Gibb and Purcell have been talking with the station commander. He says the fire was set deliberately. They were lucky the whole building didn't go up. She used an accelerant to start it. Witnesses say she sprayed somebody with a liquid, probably lighter fluid.'

'So it was premeditated. She must have somehow taken petrol in to use it as an accelerant. And she would know the cooking oil would go up as well.'

'We finally got hold of a manager who gave us a name. Mel Carpenter. She was a sous chef in the hotel. Quiet. Somebody who kept herself to herself.'

'That hotel is part of a large chain, so I'm assuming the human resources files were kept on a server off-site and not up there.'

'You assume correct, Inspector. We have Watt onto it now. We need somebody to go and talk to next of kin.' She looked back over at the sheet-covered body. 'We're going to have to identify her by dental records. You can get that information from the next of kin too. Watt has the details. I'll leave you with that and check in with you later.'

'Yes, ma'am.'

'I'm going back to the station, although the way the traffic is I'd be quicker walking. In fact, maybe that's a good idea.' She took her packet of cigarettes out in anticipation of being out in Market Street, at the side of Waverley, where she could finally light up. It was all uphill to the station from here, whether she took Fleshmarket Close opposite the exit, or walked up Cockburn Street. Maybe the thought of a drag would spur her on.

My phone rang and I took the call, ending it just before Kim came up to me.

'Chatting up other women?' she said, looking at Jeni's retreating back.

'She's forty-five, according to her profile. I mean, I like older women, but I don't feel sleeping with her would get me up the ladder quicker.'

'I said chatting up. You're getting way ahead of yourself there, cowboy.'

Then we both turned sombre. 'I heard she set fire to the hotel,' Kim said.

'We just got her details from the hotel HQ. She has parents who live in Fife and she has her own apartment down in Powderhall.'

'Who's going to see her parents?'

'Percy just sent me a text. He's going with Steffi Walker. Give him a call and arrange for him to take you.'

'No, I have other things to do. Norma wants me to find out what went on at the hotel. Are you going to the girl's flat?'

I nodded. 'I'll take Julie. Andy and Hazel are with Paddy over at the hotel.' With a ton of other police. 'Oh, and I have some bad news for you,' I said.

'Okay. I'm listening.'

'Guess where I had dinner reservations for tonight.' I looked up in the direction of the Carlton.

'Oh shit.'

Half an hour later, Kate Murphy had released the body for transport to the mortuary.





**





As it turned out, Mel's mother and father lived in North Queensferry, on the other side of the Firth of Forth, in the Kingdom of Fife. Purcell had been quite happy for Steffi to drive. Apparently, she was a better driver than I was, or, as he put it, You can't be any worse than Stirling fucking Moss.

The sun was shining, but a wind blew in from the Forth. 'This is a nice house you have,' Steffi said, looking out the back window. There was a patio with a stone balustrade running around it. Dalgety Bay was in the distance, across the Firth of Forth. It was a modern house in a modern development, priced for its view.

'What's Mel done now?' Carpenter said. He was a tall man, probably ex-military.

'We're still investigating,' Purcell said, 'but we believe she took her own life this afternoon.'

Her mother sat down heavily on the couch, followed by Carpenter. The man looked at Purcell. 'What do you mean, you believe?' Gone was any form of arrogance now.

'Sir, this is not easy, but your daughter jumped to her death from the North Bridge this afternoon.'

'No!' her mother screamed. 'She wouldn't do that!'

There were tears running down the old man's face and it almost seemed as if he had aged in the space of a few minutes. 'Calm down, Nettie. Let the police officers tell us what happened.' He looked at Purcell. 'How can you be so sure?'

'Some of our officers were there when she jumped,' Steffi said. 'We had a police negotiator there talking to her, but she didn't listen.'

'Well, he wasn't very good then, was he?' Nettie shouted, trying to stand, but was held back by her husband.

'It's not their fault, Nettie. Don't blame them.' Carpenter held his wife firmly before looking at Steffi. 'She was supposed to be at work in the hotel. We heard about the fire and couldn't get through to her. We were worried.'

Nettie was sobbing hard but stopped to look up, sniffling. 'So, you're saying there was a fire in the hotel where she worked, but she didn't die in the fire?'

'Yes,' Purcell said.

'She got out but then committed suicide. This doesn't even make sense!' Her voice rose again and she thumped her fists up and down. 'I won't believe she did this.'

Carpenter pulled her in closer again. Looked at the two detectives. 'She's had problems for a long time, but we thought she got over them.'

'I'm sorry to have to ask this, but we're going to need dental records to help identify her,' Steffi said.

'Oh God,' her mother said, and started crying hysterically again.

'Her dentist is in the town. I'll give you his number,' Carpenter said. 'And I'm assuming we won't be able to see her?'

'I'm sorry. Sometimes the old cliché is true; best to remember her how she was.'

'Well that's just fucking great!' Nettie shouted. 'Now we can't even say goodbye to her because she's all fucked up!'

'Nettie, I'm going to call the doctor. You need to take something.'

'Don't bother. I've still got enough of that shit lying around here. I'll pop some later. God knows he gave me enough of them the last time!'

'We had some problems with Mel a while back. She disowned us. We haven't seen her for a while.'

'She was a beautiful girl, but she just had problems. All the medicine in the world couldn't help her.'

'She was doing better though,' Carpenter said. 'She's had problems for years. We even saw a bit of an improvement after she went to that place.'

'What place?' Purcell said.

'It's called Paradise Shores. It's a wellness retreat. It's for de-stressing your life.'

'Which is a fancy name for rehab clinic,' Nettie said.

'It's not full of junkies, as my wife might suggest, but for people with depression problems. It's not an asylum, I can assure you. Mel had issues with her self-esteem, that's all. She just needed her confidence boosted.'

'The health spa and the well-being clinic are in the same place?' Steffi asked.

'Yes. It's in a former castle up in the Highlands. Some small town I can't even remember the name of now. But some people go there to de-stress, and there are therapists there too, if you want to book a session.'

'We can find it,' she said, taking notes.

Carpenter got up and walked over to an old-fashioned sideboard, picked up a personal telephone book, and flipped through the names until he got the number for Mel's dentist. 'He'll have Mel's x-rays. I believe he sent them to her new one when she moved to Edinburgh.' He wrote it down on a small piece of paper and handed it to Purcell.

'Was there anybody special in her life?' Purcell asked. 'A boyfriend. Girlfriend. Any special friends?'

'She wasn't gay and she never talked about a boyfriend. She did have dinner with somebody a few weeks ago. A man. She didn't say where she met him, but she seemed excited about seeing him.'

'Did you ask his name?' Steffi asked.

Nettie looked at her. 'She laughed and told us to mind our own business. It was nothing to do with dating, she said, but this man made her happy, whoever he was.'

'Somebody from work?' Purcell suggested.

'Could be. She saw him twice. Then she never spoke of him again. She seemed so much happier though, as if she'd turned a corner.'

Purcell looked out the tall windows for a moment. It was indeed a beautiful view. Maybe one day he and Suzy could afford a place like this. If he won the lottery.

'Thank you for your help. And again, I'm sorry for your loss. We'll be in touch about Mel's personal affects.'

Nettie stood. 'I want to go to her flat. I want her stuff.'

Steffi stepped forward and put a hand on Nettie's arm. 'We have officers going through her flat just now.'

'I want to go. She's my daughter! They're her things!'

'I know. I understand. But it's something we have to do.'

'Come on, love,' Carpenter said. 'I'll make you some tea.'

'We'll see ourselves out,' Purcell said, before leaving a business card on the coffee table.

Outside in the driveway, Purcell looked around for a moment before they got in the car. 'It just goes to show, no matter how much money you have, you're not always happy, eh?'

'I wouldn't know, sir. I'm only a DC.'

'I wouldn't like to see the state that woman will be in if we find out for sure Mel torched the hotel.'

Purcell's phone rang as Steffi drove away. After listening to the caller, he hung up.

'That was DCI Gibb. The fire brigade just found two bodies burnt in the kitchen. A liquid was poured all around the place and set alight.'

'Maybe she went over the edge, mentally. I know there's a lot of people who want to tell their boss to shove it, but don't.'

'Are you trying to tell me something, Officer Walker?'

'No, but maybe Mel wanted to and went one step further.'

'Her parents think she was happier than she'd ever been.'

'I used to tell my parents that when I was in the Army. Sometimes I was more scared than I've felt in my life, but I didn't tell them that.'

We never do, Purcell thought.





CHAPTER THIRTEEN





As a precaution, we took an ARU with us when we went to Mel Carpenter's house. Two people had seen her spray lighter fluid at the rapidly spreading pool of gasoline, just before the whole kitchen was engulfed.

It wouldn't be beyond the realms of possibility for her to have rigged her apartment.

We were down in Powderhall, an area of Edinburgh that had been famous for its dog racing many years ago.

'My dad would remember this place when it was the Greyhound racing stadium,' Julie said, as she followed the ARU Mitsubishi into the housing estate.

'More flats,' I said. 'They're springing up everywhere.'

'Where we are now, there used to be an old scoreboard. Gigantic it was. There were men inside putting up the results, back when numbers were painted on placards and slotted into position so the punters could see. Then it went electronic. My dad has loads of photos from here he used to show us.'

'The Edinburgh Monarchs motorbike racing was here too, wasn't it?' I said, as we stepped out of the car.

'It was. There was a dirt racing track inside the dog racing circuit. Most Friday nights they would race here.'

It seemed as if Edinburgh was evolving into something else entirely, reinventing itself as it slid into the twenty-first century. I wondered what the next fifty years would bring, but by then I'd either be pushing up the daisies or daytime TV would be the highlight of my day.

More uniforms were behind us as we went up one flight of stairs. The uniform smacked the door back with the battering ram and we stood back. Nothing happened.

The armed boys cleared the flat.

It was nice inside, a modern, two-bedroom affair, with one of them having an en-suite. There was nothing remarkable about the place. Nice, new furniture, obviously bought by Mummy and Daddy if being a sous chef's wages were anything to go by.

We looked for any evidence that would let us into Mel's head, but there wasn't anything obvious.

Except the TV.

A show had been playing and it was paused.

'It's the DVD player,' Julie said, picking up the remote.

I had a sinking feeling in my gut as she hit play. The setting could have been Edinburgh a few hundred years ago, but I recognised the show. It was a fantasy programme. Kings and Queens. A young woman darted furtively through some woods, while a palace burned in the background. She stopped when she saw some men approach her. They talked about the queen's arrival.

'Let me take you there,' the young woman said. 'I know a quick way.' She was standing on the top of a wall, with branches of trees around her. She stepped off the wall.

One of the men ran forward and jumped onto the wall, obviously expecting to see the woman lying at the bottom of some cliffs, or a mountain or something. I didn't watch the show, despite the rave reviews for it.

The camera followed the man as he jumped up, and then the viewer could see the girl didn't jump into oblivion at all, but down onto a set of stairs that led down through the clouds. They were barely discernible from the hillside.

The first man called to the other and they both jumped, landing on the steps and disappearing through the cloud.

'Jesus,' Julie said. 'Did you just watch what I watched?'

'I was with you every step of the way,' I replied, and she looked at me to see if the pun was intended, but it wasn't.

'First Steven Hubbard, and now this girl. One playing a video game and one watching a TV show. What the hell's going on, sir?'

'I wish I knew, Julie.' She had paused the show again.

'Take the DVD out. I want to take it as evidence.'

We found the box for it, and I put it in and slipped it into an evidence bag.

I left instructions for the uniform patrol to stay until the joiner turned up to fix Mel's door. She wouldn't be around to file a complaint, but her father would, I was sure of it.

We went back to the station. Before I entered the evidence, I wanted to show Purcell and Gibb what we had found.

I played it in the conference room.

'It's the DVD collection of a TV show called Kings and Queens. It's a fantasy show.'

'I've heard of it, but I haven't watched it,' Purcell said, a little too convincingly, as if we were accusing him of sitting watching porn in his underpants.

'I watch it all the time,' Gibb said. Jeni Bridge looked at him. 'What?' he said, shrugging. It just pulls you along. There's a lot of fighting in it.'

'I took you as more of a cops and robbers sort of a man,' Jeni said.

'I see enough of that in here.'

'I saw him as more of a Coronation Street sort of man,' Purcell said.

I played the DVD before they roped me into this. 'Mel was talking like this as she stood on the bridge earlier. Then she said she was going to show us a better way to go. Then she stepped off. The character on the show looks as if she's stepping into thin air but in fact, she steps onto a set of stairs you can only see from a certain angle.'

I showed them what I meant.

'So, was she like Hubbard?' Jeni asked. 'Depression?'

Purcell answered. 'Yes. Stemming from low self-esteem. She went to a private wellness centre, called Paradise Shores. I had one of the DC's look it up. It's in a converted castle, in Golspie, run by an American and his wife. They're both psychologists. It looks pretty upscale.'

'It sounds like a brothel my ex-husband visited while he was in Thailand,' Jeni said. We looked at her. 'No, he didn't, but I wish he had so I could have screwed him in the divorce.'

'So we assume she was unstable, just like Hubbard was?' Gibb said.

'It would appear so,' Jeni said. 'I've seen it before, when people just leave reality behind for a moment. Although we'll reserve judgement until the toxicology results comes back.'

I doubted very much they would find anything other than prescription meds when we got the results.

My mobile phone rang. I talked to the person on the other end and then ended the call.

I left the conference room with Julie.

'Where are we going?' she asked me.

'To see an old woman.'





**





Steven Hubbard's