Main Mortal Causes

Mortal Causes

The last people to die in Mary King's Close had been plague victims. But that was in the 1700s. Now a body has been discovered, brutally tortured and murdered in Edinburgh's buried city. Inspector John Rebus, ex army, spots a paramilitary link, but how can this be true? It is August in Edinburgh, the Festival is in full swing. No one wants to contemplate terrorism in the throng ing city streets. Special Branch are interested, however, and Rebus finds himself seconded to an elite police unit with the mission of smashing whatever cell may exist. But the victim turns out to be a gangster's son, and the gangster wants revenge on his own terms. Soon Rebus finds himself in a non man'sland where friendly fire is as likely to score a hit as anything lauched by the unseen enemy.
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The last people to die in Mary King's Close had been plague victims. But that was in the 1700s. Now a body has been discovered, brutally tortured and murdered in Edinburgh's buried city. Inspector John Rebus, ex army, spots a paramilitary link, but how can this be true? It is August in Edinburgh, the Festival is in full swing. No one wants to contemplate terrorism in the throng ing city streets. Special Branch are interested, however, and Rebus finds himself seconded to an elite police unit with the mission of smashing whatever cell may exist. But the victim turns out to be a gangster's son, and the gangster wants revenge on his own terms. Soon Rebus finds himself in a non man'sland where friendly fire is as likely to score a hit as anything lauched by the unseen enemy.





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Ian Rankin



Acknowledgements



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Ian Rankin



Mortal Causes





The sixth book in the Inspector Rebus series, 1994





Acknowledgements




A lot of people helped me with this book. I'd like to thank the people of Northern Ireland for their generosity and their `crack'. Particular thanks need to go to a few people who can't be named or wouldn't thank me for naming them. You know who you are.

Thanks also to: Colin and Liz Stevenson, for trying, Gerald Hammond, for his gun expertise; the Officers of the City of Edinburgh Police and Lothian and Borders Police, who never seem to mind me telling stories about them; David and Pauline, for help at the Festival.

The best book on the subject of Protestant paramilitaries is Professor Steve Bruce's The Red Hand (OUP, 1992). One quote from the book: `There is no "Northern Ireland problem" for which there is a solution. There is only a conflict in which there must be winners and losers.’

The action of Mortal Causes takes place in a fictiionallsed summer, 1993, before the Shankill Road bombing and its bloody aftermath.



Perhaps Edinburgh's terrible inability to speak out, Edinburgh's silence with regard to all it should be saying, Is but the hush that precedes the thunder, The liberating detonation so oppressively imminent now? Hugh MacDiarmid



We're all gonna be just dirt in the ground.





Introduction




He could scream all he liked.

They were underground, a place he didn't know, a cool ancient place but lit by electricity. And he was being punished. The blood dripped off him onto the earth floor. He could hear sounds like distant voices, something beyond the breathing of the men who stood around him. Ghosts, he thought. Shrieks and laughter, the sounds of a good night out. He must be mistaken: he was having a very bad night in.

His bare toes just touched the ground. His shoes had came off as they'd scraped him down the flights of steps. His socks had followed sometime after. He was in agony, but agony could be cured. Agony wasn't eternal. He wondered if he would walk again. He remembered the barrel of the gun touching the back of his knee, sending waves of energy up and down his leg.

His eyes were closed. If he opened them he knew he would see flecks of his own blood against the whitewashed wall, the wall which seemed to arch towards him. His toes were still moving against the ground, dabbling in warm blood. Wherever he tried to steak, he could feel his face cracking: dried salt tears and sweat.

It was strange, the shape your life could take. You might be loved as a child but still go bad. You might have monsters for parents but grow up pure. His life had been neither one nor the other. Or rather, it had been both, for he'd been cherished and abandoned in equal measure. He was six, and shaking hands with a large man. There should have been more affection between them, but somehow there wasn't. He was ten, and his mother was looking tired, bowed down, as she leaned over the sink washing dishes. Not knowing he was in the doorway, she paused to rest her hands on the rim of the sink. He was thirteen, and being initiated into his first gang. They took a pack of cards and skinned his knuckles with the edge of the pack. They took it in turns, all eleven of them. It hurt until he belonged.

Now there was a shuffling sound. And the gun barrel was touching the back of his neck, sending out more waves. How could something be so cold? He took a deep breath, feeling the effort in his shoulder-blades. There couldn't be more pain than he already felt. Heavy breathing close to his ear, and then the words again.

`Nemo me impune lacessit.’

He opened his eyes to the ghosts. They were in a smoke filled tavern, seated around a long rectangular table, their goblets of wine and ale held high. A young woman was slouching from the lap of a one-legged man. The goblets had stems but no bases: you couldn't put them back on the table until they'd been emptied. A toast was being raised. Those in fine dress rubbed shoulders with beggars. There were no divisions, not in the tavern's gloom. Then they looked towards him, and he tried to smile.

He felt but did not hear the final explosion.





1




Probably the worst Saturday night of the year: which was why Inspector John Rebus had landed the shift. God was in his heaven, just making sure. There had been a derby match in the afternoon, Hibs versus Hearts at Easter Road. Fans making their way back to the west end and beyond had stopped in the city centre to drink to excess and take in some of the sights and sounds of the Festival.

The Edinburgh Festival was the bane of Rebus's life. He'd spent years confronting it, trying to avoid it, cursing it, being caught up in it. There were those who said that it was somehow atypical of Edinburgh, a city which for most of the year seemed sleepy, moderate, bridled. But that was nonsense; Edinburgh's history was full of licence and riotous behaviour. But the Festival, especially the Festival Fringe, was different. Tourism was its lifeblood, and where there were tourists there was trouble. Pickpockets and housebreakers came to town as to a convention, while those football supporters who normally steered clear of the city centre suddenly became its passionate defenders, challenging the foreign invaders who could be found at tables outside short-lease cafes up and down the High Street.

Tonight the two might clash in a big way.

'It's hell out there,' one constable had already commented as he paused for rest in the canteen. Rebus believed him all too readily. The cells were filling nicely along with the CID in-trays. A woman had pushed her drunken husband's fingers into the kitchen mincer. Someone was applying superglue to cashpoint machines then chiselling the flap open later to get at the money. Several bags had been snatched around Princes Street. And the Can Gang were on the go again.

The Can Gang had a simple recipe. They stood at bus stops and offered a drink from their can. They were imposing figures, and the victim would take the proffered drink, not knowing that the beer or cola contained crushed up Mogadon tablets, or similar fast-acting tranquillisers. When the victim passed out, the gang would strip them of cash and valuables. You woke up with a gummy head, or in one severe case with your stomach pumped dry. And you woke up poor.

Meantime, there had been another bomb threat, this time phoned to the newspaper rather than Lowland Radio. Rebus had gone to the newspaper offices to take a statement from the journalist who'd taken the call. The place was a madhouse of Festival and Fringe critics filing their reviews. The journalist read from his notes.

`He just said, if we didn't shut the Festival down, we'd be sorry.’

'Did he sound serious?’

`Oh, yes, definitely.’

`And he had an Irish accent?’

'Sounded like it.’

`Not just a fake?’

The reporter shrugged. He was keen to file his story, so Rebus let him go. That made three calls in the past weak, each one threatening to bomb or otherwise disrupt the Festival. The police were taking the threat seriously. How could they afford not to? So far, the tourists hadn't been scared off, but venues were being urged to make security checks before and after each performance.

Back at St Leonard's, Rebus reported to his Chief Superintendent, then tried to finish another piece of paperwork. Masochist that he was, he quite liked the Saturday backshift. You saw the city in its many guises. It allowed a salutory peek into Edinburgh's grey soul. Sin and evil weren't black – he'd argued the point with a priest – but were greyly anonymous. You saw them all night long, the grey peering faces of the wrongdoers and malcontents, the wife beaters and the knife boys. Unfocused eyes, drained of all concern save for themselves. And you prayed, if you were John Rebus, prayed that as few people as possible ever had to get as close as this to the massive grey nonentity.

Then you went to the canteen and had a joke with the lads, fixing a smile to your face whether you were listening or not.

`Here, Inspector, have you heard the one about the squid with the moustache? He goes into a restaurant and-‘

Rebus turned away from the DC's story towards his ringing phone.

`DI Rebus.’

He listened for a moment, the smile melting from his face. Then he put down the receiver and lifted his jacket from the back of his chair.

`Bad news?’ asked the DC.

'You're not joking, son.’

The High Street was packed with people, most of them just browsing. Young people bobbed up and down trying to instil enthusiasm in the Fringe productions they were supporting. Supporting them? They were probably the leads in them. They busily thrust flyers into hands already full of similar sheets.

`Only two quid, best value on the Fringe!' `You won't see another show like it!' There were jugglers and people with painted faces, and a cacophony of musical disharmonies. Where else in the world would bagpipes, banjos and kazoos meet to join in a bucking battle from hell? Locals said this Festival was quieter than the last. They'd been saying it for years. Rebus wondered if the thing had ever had a heyday. It was plenty busy enough for him.

Though it was a warm night, he kept his car windows shut. Even so, as he crawled along the seas flyers would be pushed beneath his windscreen wipers, all but blocking his vision. His scowl met impregnable drama student smiles. It was ten o'clock, not long dark; that was the beauty of a Scottish summer. He tried to imagine himself on a deserted beach, or crouched atop a mountain, alone with his thoughts. Who was he trying to kid? John Rebus was always alone with his thoughts. And just now he was thinking of drink. Another hour or two and the bars would sluice themselves out, unless they'd applied for (and been granted) the very late licences available at Festival time.

He was heading for the City Chambers, across the street from St Giles' Cathedral. You turned off the High Street and through one of two stone arches into a small parking area in front of the Chambers themselves. A uniformed constable was standing guard beneath one of the arches. He recognised Rebus and nodded, stepping out of the way. Rebus parked his own car beside a marked patrol car, stopped the engine and got out.

`Evening, sir.’

`Where is it?’

The constable nodded towards a door near one of the arches, attached to the side wall of the Chambers. They walked towards it. A young woman was standing next to the door.

'Inspector,' she said.

'Hello, Mairie.’

`I've told her to move on, sir,' the constable apologised.`

Mairie Henderson ignored him. Her eyes were on Rebus's 'What's going on?’

'Rebus winked at her. 'The Lodge, Mairie. We all meet in secret, like.’

She scowled. 'Well then, give me a chance. Off to a show, are you?’

'I was till I saw the commotion.’

'Saturday's your day off, isn't it?’

'Journalists don't get days off, Inspector. What's behind the door?’

'It's got glass panels, Mairie. Take a peek for yourself.’

But all you could see through the panels was a narrow landing with doors off. One door was open, allowing a glimpse of stairs leading down. Rebus turned to the constable.

`Let's get a proper cordon set up, son. Something across the arches to fend off the tourists before the show starts. Radio in for assistance if you need it. Excuse me, Mairie.’

`Then there is going to be a show?’

Rebus stepped past her and opened the door, closing it again behind him. He made for the stairs down, which were lit by a naked lightbulb. Ahead of him he could hear voices. At the bottom of this first flight he turned a corner and came upon the group. There were two teenage girls and a boy, all of them seated or crouching, the girls shaking and crying. Over them stood a uniformed constable and a man Rebus recognised as a local doctor. They all looked up at his approach.

`This is the Inspector,' the constable told the teenagers. `Right, we're going back down there. You three stay here.’

Rebus, squeezing past the teenagers, saw the doctor give them a worried glance. He gave the doctor a wink, telling him they'd get over it. The doctor didn't seem so sure.

Together the three men set off down the next flight of stairs. The constable was carrying a torch.

'There's electricity,' he said. 'But a couple of the bulbs have gone.’

They walked along a narrow passage, its low ceiling further reduced by air- and heating-ducts and other pipes. Tubes of scaffolding lay on the floor ready for assembly. There were more steps down.

'You know where we are?’ the constable asked.

'Mary King's Close,' said Rebus.

Not that he'd ever been down here, not exactly. But he'd been in similar old buried streets beneath the High Street. He knew of Mary King's Close.

'Story goes,' said the constable, 'there was a plague in the 1600s, people died or moved out, never really moved back. Then there was a fire. They blocked off the ends of the street. When they rebuilt, they built over the top of the close.’

He shone his torch towards the ceiling, which was now three or four storeys above them. `See that marble slab? That's the floor of the City Chambers.’

He smiled. `I came on the tour last year.’

`Incredible,' the doctor said. Then to Rebus: 'I'm Dr Galloway.’

`Inspector Rebus. Thanks for getting here so quickly.’

The doctor ignored this. `You're a friend of Dr Aitken's, aren't you?’

Ah, Patience Aitken. She'd be at home just now, feet tucked under her, a cat and an improving book on her lap, boring classical music in the background. Rebus nodded.

'I used to share a surgery with her,' Dr Galloway explained.

They were in the close proper now, a narrow and fairly steep roadway between stone buildings. A rough drainage channel ran down one side of the road. Passages led off to dark alcoves, one of which, according to the constable, housed a bakery, its ovens intact. The constable was beginning to get on Rebus's nerves.

There were more ducts and pipes, runs of electric cable. The far end of the close had been blocked off by an elevator, shaft. Signs of renovation were all around: bags of cement, scaffolding, pails and shovels. Rebus pointed to an arc lamp.

`Can we plug that in?’

The constable thought they could. Rebus looked around. The place wasn't damp or chilled or cobwebbed. The air seemed fresh. Yet they were three or four storeys beneath road level. Rebus took the torch and shone it through a doorway. At the end of the hallway he could see a wooden toilet, its seat raised. The next door along led into a long vaulted room, its walls whitewashed, the floor earthen.

`That's the wine shop,' the constable said. `The butcher's is next door.’

So it was. It too consisted of a vaulted room, again whitewashed and with a floor of packed earth. But in its ceiling were a great many iron hooks, short and blackened but obviously used at one time for hanging up meat.

Meat still hung from one of them.

It was the lifeless body of a young man. His hair was dark and slick, stuck to his forehead and neck. His hands had been tied and the rope slipped over a hook, so that he hung stretched with his knuckles near the ceiling and his toes barely touching the ground. His ankles had been tied together too. There was blood everywhere, a fact made all too plain as the arc lamp suddenly came on, sweeping light and shadows across the walls and roof. There was the faint smell of decay, but no flies, thank God. Dr Galloway swallowed hard, his Adam's apple seeming to duck for cover, then retreated into the close to be sick. Rebus tried to steady his own heart. He walked around the carcass, keeping his distance initially.

'Tell me,' he said.

`Well, sir,' the constable began, 'the three young people upstairs, they decided to come down here. The place had been closed to tours while the building work goes on, but they wanted to come down at night. There are a lot of ghost stories told about this place, headless dogs and `How did they get a key?’

`The boy's great-uncle, he's one of the tour guides, a retired planner or something.’

`So they came looking for ghosts and they found this.’

`That's right, sir. They ran back up to the High Street and bumped into PC Andrews and me. We thought they were having us on at first, like.’

But Rebus was no longer listening, and when he spoke it wasn't to the constable.

'You poor little bastard, look what they did to you.’

Though it was against regulations, he leaned forward and touched the young man's hair. It was still slightly damp. He'd probably died on Friday night, and was meant to hang here over the weekend, enough time for any trail, any clues, to grow as cold as his bones.

`What do you reckon, sir?’

`Gunshots.’ Rebus looked to where blood had sprayed the wall. `Something high-velocity. Head, elbows, knees, and ankles.’ He sucked in breath. `He's been six-packed.’

There were shuffling noises in the close, and the wavering beam of another torch. Two figures stood in the doorway, their bodies silhouetted by the arc lamp.

`Cheer up, Dr Galloway,' a male voice boomed to the hapless figure still crouched in the close. Recognising the voice, Rebus smiled.

'Ready when you are, Dr Curt,' he said.

The pathologist stepped into the chamber and shook Rebus's hand. `The hidden city, quite a revelation.’

His companion, a woman, stepped forward to join them, `Have the two of you met?’

Dr Curt sounded like the host at a luncheon party. 'Inspector Rebus, this is Ms Rattray from the Procurator Fiscal's office.’

'Caroline Rattray.’

She shook Rebus's hand. She was tall, as tall as either man, with long dark hair tied at the back.

`Caroline and I,' Curt was saying, 'were enjoying supper after the ballet when the call came. So I thought I'd drag her along, kill two birds with one stone… so to speak.’

Curt exhaled fumes of good food and good wine. Both he and the lawyer were dressed for an evening out, and already some white plaster-dust had smudged Caroline Rattray's black jacket. As Rebus moved to brush off the dust, she caught her first sight of the body, and looked away quickly, Rebus didn't blame her, but Curt was advancing on tie figure as though towards another guest at the party. He paused to put on polythene overshoes.

'I always carry some in my car,' he explained. `You never know when they'll be needed.’

He got close to the body and examined the head first, before looking back towards Rebus..

`Dr Galloway had a look, has he?’

Rebus shook his head slowly. He knew what was coming. He'd seen Curt examine headless bodies and mangled bodies and bodies that were little more than torsos or melted to the consistency of lard, and the pathologist always said the same thing.

`Poor chap's dead.’

'Thank you.’

'I take it the crew are on their way?’

Rebus nodded. The crew were on their way. A van to start with, loaded with everything they'd need for the initial scene of crime investigation. SOC officers, lights and cameras, strips of tape, evidence bags, and of course a bodybag. Sometimes a forensic team came too, if cause of death looked particularly murky or the scene was a mess.

'I think,' said Curt, 'the Procurator Fiscal's office will agree that foul play is suspected?’

Rattray nodded, still not looking.

'Well, it wasn't suicide,'- commented Rebus. Caroline Rattray turned towards the wall, only to find herself facing the sprays of blood. She turned instead to the doorway, where Dr Galloway was dabbing his mouth with a handkerchief.

'We'd better get someone to fetch me my tools.’

Curt was studying the ceiling. `Any idea what this place was?’

`A butcher's shop, sir,' said the constable, only too happy to help. 'There's a wine shop too, and some houses. You can still go into them.’

He turned to Rebus. 'Sir, what's a six-pack?’

`A six-pack?’ echoed Curt.

Rebus stared at the hanging body. 'It's a punishment,` he said quietly. 'Only you're not supposed to die. What's that on the floor?’

He was pointing to the dead man's feet, to the spot where they grazed the dark-stained ground.

'Looks like rats have been nibbling his toes,' said Curt.

'No, not that.’

There were shallow grooves in the earth, so wide they must have been made with a big toe. Four crude capital letters were discernible.

'Is that Neno or Nemo?’

'Could even be Memo,' offered Dr Curt.

'Captain Nemo,' said the constable. 'He's the guy in 2,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea.’

'Jules Verne,' said Curt, nodding.

The constable shook his head. `No, sir, Walt Disney,' he said.





2




On Sunday morning Rebus and Dr Patience Aitken decided to get away from it all by staying in bed. He nipped out early for croissants and papers from the local corner shop, and they ate breakfast from a tray on top of the bedcovers, sharing sections of the newspapers, discarding more than they read.

There was no mention of the previous night's grisly find in Mary King's Close. The news had seeped out too late for publication. But Rebus knew there would be something about it on the local radio news, so he was quite content for once when Patience tuned the bedside radio to a classical station.

He should have come off his shift at midnight, but murder tended to disrupt the system of shifts. On a murder inquiry, you stopped working when you reasonably could. Rebus had hung around till two in the morning, consulting with the night shift about the corpse in Mary King's Close. He'd contacted his Chief Inspector and Chief Super, and kept in touch with Fettes HQ, where the forensic stuff' had gone. DI Flower kept telling him to go home. Finally he'd taken tile advice.

The real problem with back shifts was that Rebus couldn't sleep well after them anyway. He'd managed four hours since arriving home, and four hours would suffice. But there was a warm pleasure in slipping into bed as dawn neared, curling against the body already asleep there. And even more pleasure in pushing the cat off the bed as you did so.

Before retiring, he'd swallowed four measures of whisky He told himself it was purely medicinal, but rinsed the put it away, hoping Patience wouldn't notice. She` complained often of his drinking, among other things.

`We're eating out,' she said now.

`When?’

'Lunch today.’

`Where?’

`That place out at Carlops.’

Rebus nodded. `Witch's Leap,' he said.

`What?’

`That's what Carlops means. There's a big rock there. They used to throw suspected witches from it. If you didn't fly, you were innocent.’

`But also dead?’

`Their judicial system wasn't perfect, witness the duckingstool. Same principle.’

`How do you know all this?’

`It's amazing what these young constables know nowadays.’

He paused. 'About lunch… I should go into work.’

`Oh no, you don't.’

`Patience, there's been a-‘

`John, there'll be a murder here if we don't start spending some time together. Phone in sick.’

`I can't do that.’

`Then I'll do it. I’m a doctor, they'll believe me.’

They believed her.

They walked off lunch by taking a look at Carlops Rock, and then braving a climb onto the Pentlands, despite the fierce horizontal winds. Back in Oxford Terrace, Patience eventually said she had some `office things' to do, which meant filing or tax or flicking through the-latest media: journals. So Rebus drove out along Queensferry Road and parked outside the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual noting with guilty pleasure that no one had yet corrected the mischievous graffiti on the noticeboard which turned 'Help' into `Hell'.

Inside, the church was empty, cool and quiet and flooded with coloured light from the stained glass. Hoping his timing was good, he slipped into the confessional. There was someone on the other side of the grille.

`Forgive me, father,' said Rebus, `I'm not even a Catholic.’

`Ah good, it's you, you heathen. I was hoping you'd come. I want your help.’

'Shouldn't that be my line?’

`Don't be bloody cheeky. Come on, let's have a drink.’

Father Conor Leary was between fifty-five and seventy and had told Rebus that he couldn't remember which he was nearer. He was a bulky barrelling figure with thick silver hair which sprouted not only from his head but also from ears, nose and the back of his neck. In civvies, Rebus guessed he would pass for a retired dockworker or skilled labourer of some kind who had also been handy as a boxer, and Father Leary had photos and trophies to prove that this last was incontrovertible truth. He often jabbed the air to make a point, finishing with an uppercut to show that there could be no comeback. In conversation between the two men, Rebus had often wished for a referee.

But today Father Leary sat comfortably and sedately enough in the deckchair in his garden. It was a beautiful early evening, warm and clear with the trace of a cool seaborne breeze.

`A great day to go hot-air ballooning,' said Father Leary, taking a swig from his glass of Guinness. `Or bungee jumping. I believe they've set up something of the sort on The Meadows, just for the duration of the Festival. Man, I'd like to try that.’

Rebus blinked but said nothing. His Guinness was cold enough to double as dental anaesthetic. He shifted in his own deckchair, which was by far the older of the two. Before sitting, he'd noticed how threadbare the canvas washow how it had been rubbed away where It met the horizontal wooden spars. He hoped it would hold.

`Do you like my garden?’

Rebus looked at the bright blooms, the trim grass. `I don't know much about gardens,' he admitted.

'Me neither. It's not a sin. But there's an old chap I know who does know about them, and he looks after this one for a few bob.’

He raised his glass towards his lips. `So how are you keeping?’

'I'm fine.’

`And Dr Aitken?’

`She's fine.’

`And the two of you are still…?’

'Just about.’

Father Leary nodded. Rebus's tone was warning him off. `Another bomb threat, eh? I heard on the radio.’

`It could be a crank.’

'But you're not sure?’

'The IRA usually use codewords, just so we know they're serious.’

Father Leary nodded to himself. 'And a murder too?’

Rebus gulped his drink. `I was there.’

'They don't even stop for the Festival, do they? Whatever must the tourists think?’

Father Leary's eyes were sparkling.

`It's about time the tourists learned the truth,' Rebus said, a bit too quickly. He sighed. `It was pretty gruesome.’

'I'm sorry to hear that. I shouldn't have been so flippant.’

`That's all right. It's a defence.’

`You're right, it is.’

Rebus knew this. It was the reason behind his many little jokes with Dr Curt. It was their way of avoiding the obvious, the undeniable. Even so, since last night Rebus had held in his mind the picture of that sad strung up figure, a young man they hadn't even identified yet. The picture would stay there forever. Everybody had a photographic memory for horror. He'd climbed back out of Mary King's Close to find the High Street aglow with a firework display, the streets thronged with people staring up openmouthed at the blues and greens in the night sky. The fireworks were coming from the Castle; the night's Tattoo display was ending. He hadn't felt much like talking to Mairie Henderson. In fact, he had snubbed her.

`This isn't very nice,' she'd said, standing her ground.

`This is very nice,' Father Leary said now, relaxing back further into his seat.

The whisky Rebus had drunk hadn't rubbed out the picture. If anything, it had smeared the corners and edges, which only served to highlight the central fact. More whisky would have made this image sharper still.

`We're not here for very long, are we?’ he said now.

Father Leary frowned. 'You mean here on earth?’

`That's what I mean. We're not around long enough to make any difference.’

`Tell that to the man with a bomb in his pocket. Every one of us makes a difference just by being here.’

'I'm not talking about the man with the bomb, I'm talking about stopping him.’

`You're talking about being a policeman.’

'Ach, maybe I'm not talking about anything.’

Father Leary allowed a short-lived smile, his eyes never leaving Rebus's. 'A bit morbid for a Sunday, John?’

'Isn't that what Sundays are for?’

`Maybe for you sons of Calvin. You tell yourselves you're doomed, then spend all week trying to make a joke of it. Others of us give thanks for this day and its meaning.’

Rebus shifted in his chair. Lately, he didn't enjoy Father Leary's conversations so much. There was something proselytising about them. `So when do we get down to business?’ he said.

Father Leary smiled. `The Protestant work ethic.’

`You haven't brought me here to convert me.’

'We wouldn't want a dour bugger like you. Besides, I’d more easily convert a fifty-yard penalty in a Murrayfield crosswind.’

He took a swipe at the air. 'Ach, it's not really your problem. Maybe it isn't a problem at all.’

He ran a finger down the crease in his trouser-leg.

`You can still tell me about it.’

`A reversal of roles, eh? Well, I suppose that's what I had in mind all along.’

He sat further forward in the deckchair, the material stretching and sounding a sharp note of complaint. `Here it is then. You know Pilmuir?’

`Don't be daft.’

`Yes, stupid question. And Pilmuir's Garibaldi Estate?’

'The Gar-B, it's the roughest scheme in the city, maybe in the country.’

`There are good people there, but you're right. That's why the Church sent an outreach worker.’

`And now he's in trouble?’

`Maybe.’

Father Leary finished his drink. `It was my idea. There's a community hall on the estate, only it had been locked up for months. I thought we could reopen it as a youth club.’

`For Catholics?’

'For both faiths.’

He sat back in his chair. 'Even for the faithless. The Garibaldi is predominantly Protestant, but there are Catholics there too. We got agreement, and set up some funds. I knew we needed someone special, someone really dynamic in charge.’

He punched the air. `Someone who might just draw the two sides together.’

Mission impossible, thought Rebus. This scheme will self-destruct in ten seconds.

Not least of the Gar-B's problems was the sectarian divide or the lack of one, depending on how you looked at it. Protestants and Catholics lived in the same streets, same tower blocks. Mostly, they lived in relative harmony and shared poverty. But, there being little to do on the estate, the youth of the place tended to organise into opposing gangs and wage warfare. Every year there was at least one pitched battle for police to contend with, usually in July, usually around the Protestant holy day of the 12th.

'So you brought in the SAS?’ Rebus suggested. Father Leary was slow to get the joke.

'Not at all,' he said, `just a young man, a very ordinary young man but with inner strength.’

His fist cut the air. 'Spiritual strength. And for a while it looked like a disaster. Nobody came to the club, the windows were smashed as soon as we'd replaced them, the graffiti got worse and more personal. But then he started to break through. That seemed the miracle. Attendance at the club increased, and both sides were joining.’

'So what's gone wrong?’

Father Leary loosened his shoulders. 'It just wasn't quite right. I thought there'd be sports, maybe a football team or something. We bought the strips and applied to join a local league. But the lads weren't interested. All they wanted to do was hang around the hall itself. And the balance isn't there either, the Catholics have stopped joining. Most of them have even stopped attending.’

He looked at Rebus. 'That's not just sour grapes, you understand.’

Rebus nodded. 'The Prod gangs have annnexed it?’

'I'm not saying that exactly.’

Sounds like it to me. And your… outreach worker?’

`His name's Peter Cave. Oh, he's still there. Too often for my liking.’

'I still don't see the problem.’

Actually he could, but he wanted it spelling out.

`John, I've talked to people on the estate, and all over Pilmuir. The gangs are as bad as ever, only now they seem to be working together, divvying the place up between them. All that's happened is that they've become more organised. They have meetings in the club and carve up the surrounding territory.’

`It keeps them off the street.’

Father Leery didn't smile. 'So close the youth club.’

'That's not so easy. It would look bad for a start. And would it solve anything?’

`Have you talked with Mr. Cave?’

`He doesn't listen. He's changed. That's what troubles me most of all.’

'You could kick him out.’

Father Leery shook his head. `He's lay, John. I can't order him to do anything. We've cut the club's funding, but the money to keep it going comes from somewhere nevertheless.’

`Where from?’

'I don't know.’

'How much?’

`It doesn't take much.’

'So what do you want me to do?’

The question Rebus had been trying not to ask.

Father Leery gave his weary smile again. 'To be honest, I don't know. Perhaps I just needed to tell someone.’

'Don't give me that. You want me to go out there.’

'Not if you don't want to.’

It was Rebus's turn to smile. `I've been in safer places.’

'And a few worse ones, too.’

'I haven't told you about half of them, Father.’

Rebus finished his drink.

`Another?’

He shook his head. 'It's nice and quiet here, isn't it?’

Father Leary nodded. 'That's the beauty of Edinburgh, you're never far from a peaceful spot.’

'And never far from a hellish one either. Thanks for the drink, Father.’

Rebus got up.

`I see your team won yesterday.’

'What makes you think I support Hearts?’

'They're Prods, aren't they? And you're a Protestant yourself.’

'Away to hell, Father,' said John Rebus, laughing.

Father Leery pulled himself to his feet. He straightened his back with a grimace. He was acting purposely aged. Just an old man. 'About the Gar-B, John,' he said, opening his arms wide, `I'm in your hands.’

Like nails, thought Rebus, like carpentry nails.





3




Monday morning saw Rebus back at work and in the Chief Super's office. `Farmer' Watson was pouring coffee for himself and Chief Inspector Frank Lauderdale, Rebus having refused. He was strictly decaf these days, and the Farmer didn't know the meaning of the word.

'A busy Saturday night,' said the Farmer, handing Lauderdale a grubby mug. As inconspicuously as he could, Lauderdale started rubbing marks off the rim with the ball of his thumb. 'Feeling better, by the way, John?’

'Scads better, sir, thank you,' said Rebus, not even close to blushing.

'A grim business under the City Chambers.’

'Yes, sir.’

`So what do we have?’

It was Lauderdale's turn to speak. `Victim was shot seven times with what looks like a nine-millimetre revolver. Ballistics will have a full report for us by day's end. Dr Curt tells us that the head wound actually killed the victim, and it was the last bullet delivered. They wanted him to suffer.’

Lauderdale sipped from the cleaned rim of his mug. A Murder Room had been set up along the hall, and he was in charge. Consequently, he was wearing his best suit. There would be press briefings, maybe a TV appearance or two. Lauderdale looked ready. Rebus would gladly have tipped the mug of coffee down the mauve shirt and paisley pattern tie.

'Your thoughts, John,' said Farmer Watson. `Someone mentioned the words "six-pack".’

`Yes, sir. It's a punishment routine in Northern Ireland, usually carried out by the IRA.’

`I've heard of kneecappings.’

Rebus nodded. 'For minor offences, there's a bullet in each elbow or ankle. For more serious crimes, there's a kneecapping on top. And finally there's the six-pack: both elbows, both knees, both ankles.’

'You know a lot about it.’

`I was in the army, sir. I still take an interest.’

`You were in Ulster?’

Rebus nodded slowly. `In the early days.’

Chief Inspector Lauderdale placed his mug carefully on the desktop. `But they normally wouldn't then kill the person?’

'Not normally.’

The three men sat in silence-for a moment. The Farmer broke the spell. 'An IRA punishment gang? Here?’

Rebus shrugged. `A copycat maybe. Gangs aping what they've seen in the papers or on TV.’

`But using serious guns.’

`Very serious,' said Lauderdale. `Could be a tie-in with these bomb threats.’

The Farmer nodded. `That's the line the media are taking. Maybe our would-be bomber had gone rogue, and they caught up with him.’

`There's something else, sir,' said Rebus. He'd phoned Dr Curt first thing, just to check. 'They did the knees from behind. Maximum damage. You sever the arteries before smashing kneecaps.’

'What's your point?’

'Two points, sir. One, they knew exactly what they were doing. Two, why bother when you're going to kill him anyway? Maybe whoever did it changed his mind at the last minute. Maybe the victim was meant to live. The probable handgun was a revolver. Six shots. Whoever did it must have stopped to reload before putting that final bullet in the head.’

Eyes were avoided as the three men considered this, putting themselves in the victim's place. You've been sixpacked. You think it's over. Then you hear the gun being reloaded…

'Sweet Jesus,' said the Farmer.

'There are too many guns around,' Lauderdale said matter-of-factly. It was true: over the past few years there had been a steady increase in the number of firearms on the street.

`Why Mary King's Close?’ asked the Farmer.

`You're not likely to be disturbed there,' Rebus guessed. `Plus it's virtually soundproof.’

`You could say the same about a lot of places, most of them a long way from the High Street in the middle of the Festival. They were taking a big risk. Why bother?’

Rebus had wondered the same thing. He had no answer to offer.

`And Nemo or Memo?’

It was Lauderdale's turn, another respite from the coffee. 'I've got men on it, sir, checking libraries and phone directories, digging up meanings.’

`You've talked to the teenagers?’

'Yes, sir. They seem genuine enough.’

'And the person who gave them the key?’

'He didn't give it to them, sir, they took it without his knowledge. He's in his seventies and straighter than a plumbline.’

`Some builders I know,' said the Farmer, `could bend even a plumb-line.’

Rebus smiled. He knew those builders too.

`We're talking to everyone,' Lauderdale went on, 'who's been working in Mary King's Close.’

It seemed he had got the Farmer's joke.

`All right, John,' said the Farmer. `You were in the army, what about the tattoo?’

Yes, the tattoo. Rebus had known the conclusion everyone would jump to. From the case notes, they'd spent most of Sunday jumping to it. The Farmer was examining a photograph. It had been taken during Sunday's postmortem examination. The SOCOs on Saturday night had taken photos too, but those hadn't come out nearly as clearly.

The photo showed a tattoo on the victim's right forearm. It was a rough, self-inflicted affair, the kind you sometimes saw on teenagers, usually on the backs of hands. A needle and some blue ink, that's all you needed; that and a measure of luck that the thing wouldn't become infected. Those were all the victim had needed to prick the letters SaS into his skin.

`It's not the Special Air Service,' said Rebus.

`No?’

Rebus shook his head. 'For all sorts of reasons. You'd use a capital A for a start. More likely, if you wanted an SAS tattoo you'd go far the crest, the knife and wings and "Who dares wins", something like that.’

`Unless you didn't know anything about the regiment,' offered Lauderdale.

`Then why sport a tattoo?’

`Do we have any ideas?’ asked the Farmer.

`We're checking,' said Lauderdale.

'And we still don't know who he is?’

'No, sir, we still don't know who he is.’

Farmer Watson sighed. 'Then that'll have to do for now. I know we're stretched just at the minute, with the Festival threat and everything else, but it goes without saying this takes priority. Use all the men you have to. We need to clean this up quickly. Special Branch and the Crime Squad are already taking an interest.’

Ah, thought Rebus, so that was why the Farmer was being a bit more thorough than usual. Normally, he'd just let Lauderdale get on with it. Lauderdale was good at running an office. You just didn't want him out there on the street with you. Watson was shuffling the papers on his desk.

`I see the Can Gang have been at it again:' It was time to move on. Rebus had had dealings in Pilmuir before. He'd seen a good policeman go wrong there. He'd tasted darkness there. The sour feeling returned as he drove past stunted grass verges and broken saplings. Though no tourists ever came here, there was a welcome sign. It comprised somebody's gable end, with white painted letters four feet high: ENJOY YOUR VISIT TO THE GAR-B.

Gar-B was what the kids (for want of a better term) called the Garibaldi estate. It was a mish-mash of early 60s terraced housing and late '60s tower blocks, everything faced with grey harling, with boring swathes of grass separating the estate from the main road. There were a lot of orange plastic traffic cones lying around. They would make goalposts for a quick game of football, or chicanes for the bikers. Last year, some enterprising souls had put them to better use, using them to divert traffic off' the main road and into the Gar-B, where youths lined the slip-road and pelted the cars with rocks and bottles. If the drivers ran from their vehicles, they were allowed to go, while the cars were stripped of anything of value, right down to, tyres, seat-covers and engine parts.

Later in the year, when the road needed digging up, a lot of drivers ignored. the genuine traffic cones and as a result drove into newly dug ditches. By next morning, abandoned vehicles had been stripped to the bone. The Gar-B would have stripped the paint if they could.

You had to admire their ingenuity: Give these kids money and opportunity and they'd be the saviours of the capitalist state. Instead, the state gave them dole and daytime TV. Rebus was watched by a gang of pre-teens as he parked. One of them called out.

`Where's yir swanky car?’

`It's no' him,' said another, kicking the first lazily in the ankle. The two of them were on bicycles and looked like the leaders, being a good year or two older than their cohorts. Rebus waved them over.

'What is it?’

But they came anyway.

'Keep an eye on my car,' he told them. `Anyone touches it, you touch them, okay? There's a couple of quid for you when I get back.’

'Half now,' the first said quickly. The second nodded. Rebus handed over half the money, which they pocketed.

`Naebody'd touch that car anyway, mister,' said the second, producing a chorus of laughter from behind him.

Rebus shook his head slowly: the patter here was probably sharper than most of the stand-ups on the Fringe. The two boys could have been brothers. More than that, they could have been brothers in the 1930s. They were dressed in cheap modern style, but had shorn heads and wide ears and sallow faces with dark-ringed eyes. You saw them staring out from old photographs wearing boots too big for them and scowls too old. They didn't just seem older than the other kids; they seemed older than Rebus himself.

When he turned his back, he imagined them in sepia.

He wandered towards the community centre. He'd to pass dome lock-up garages and one of the three twelve-storey blocks of flats. The community centre itself was no more than a hall, small and tired looking with boarded windows and the usual indecipherable graffiti. Surrounded by concrete, it had a low flat roof, asphalt black, on which lay four teenagers smoking cigarettes. Their chests were naked, their t-shirts tied around their waists. There was so much broken glass up there, they could have doubled as fakirs in a magic show. One of them had a pile of sheets of paper, and was folding them into paper planes which he released from the roof. Judging by the number of planes littering the grass, it had been a busy morning at the control tower.

Paint had peeled in long strips from the centre's doors, and one layer of the plywood beneath had been punctured by a foot or a fist. But the doors were locked fast by means of not one but two padlocks. Two more youths sat on the ground, backs against the doors, legs stretched in front of them and crossed at the ankles, for all the world like security guards on a break. Their trainers were in bad repair, their denims patched and torn and patched again. Maybe it was just the fashion. One wore a black t-shirt, the other an unbuttoned denim jacket with no shirt beneath.

'It's shut,' the denim jacket said.

`When does it open?’

'The night. No polis allowed though.’

Rebus smiled. 'I don't think I know you. What's your name?’

The smile back at him was a parody. Black t-shirt grunted an undeveloped laugh. Rebus noticed flecks of white scale in the youth's hair. Neither youth was about to say anything. The teenagers on the roof were standing now, ready to leap in should anything develop.

`Hard men,' said Rebus. He turned and started to walk away. Denim jacket got to his feet and came after him.

'What's up, Mr Polisman?’

Rebus didn't bother looking at the youth, but he stopped walking. `Why should anything be up?’

One of the paper planes, aimed or not, hit him on the leg. He picked it up. On the roof, they were laughing quietly.

`Why should anything be up?’ he repeated.

`Behave. You're not our usual plod.’

'A change is as good as a rest.’

`Arrest? What for?’

Rebus smiled again. He turned to the youth. The face was just leaving acne behind it, and would be good looking for a few more years before it started to decline. Poor diet and alcohol would be its undoing if drugs or fights weren't. The hair was fair and curly, like a child's hair, but not thick. There was a quick intelligence to the eyes, but the eyes themselves were narrow. The intelligence would be narrow too, focusing only on the main chance, the next deal. There was quick anger in those eyes too, and something further back that Rebus didn't like to think about.

'With an act like yours,' he said, 'you should be on the Fringe.’

`I fuckn hate the Festival.’

'Join the club. What's your name, son?’

'You like names, don't you?’

'I can find out.’

The youth slipped his hands into his tight jeans pockets. 'You don't want to.’

`No?’

A slow shake of the head. `Believe me, you really don't want to.’

The youth turned, heading back to his friends. `Or next time,' he said, `your car might not be there at all.’

Sure enough, as Rebus approached he saw that his car was sinking into the ground. It looked like maybe it was taking cover. But it was only the tyres. They'd been generous; they'd only slashed two of them. He looked around him. There was no sign of the pre-teen gang, though they might be watching from the safe distance of a tower-block window.

He leaned against the car and unfolded the paper plane. It was the flyer for a Fringe show, and a blurb on the back explains that the theatre group in question were uprooting from the city centre in order to play the Garibaldi Community Centre for one night.

`You know not what you do,' Rebus said to himself.

Some young mothers were crossing the football pitch. A crying baby was being shaken on its buggy springs. A toddler was being dragged screaming by the arm, his legs frozen in protest so that they scraped the ground. Both baby and toddler were being brought back into the Gar-b. But not without a fight.

Rebus didn't blame them for resisting.





4




Detective Sergeant Brian Holmes was in the Murder Room, handing a polystyrene cup of tea to Detective Constable Siobhan Clarke, and laughing about something.

`What's the joke?’

asked Rebus.

'The one about the hard-up squid,' Holmes answered.

`The one with the moustache?’

Holmes nodded, wiping an imaginary tear from his eye. `And Gervase the waiter. Brilliant, eh, sir?’

'Brilliant.’

Rebus looked around. The Murder Room was all purposeful activity. Photos of the victim and the locus had been pinned up on one wall, a staff rota not far from it. The staff rota was on a plastic wipe-board, and a WPC was checking names from a list against a series of duties and putting them on the board in thick blue marker-pen. Rebus went over to her. `Keep DI Flower and me away from one another, eh? Even if it means a slip of the pen.’

'I could get into trouble for that, Inspector.’

She was smiling, so Rebus winked at her. Everyone knew that having Rebus and Flower in close proximity, two detectives 'who hated one another, would be counter productive. But of course Lauderdale was in charge. It was Lauderdale's list, and Lauderdale liked to see sparks fly, so much so that he might have been happier in a foundry.

Holmes and Clarke knew what Rebus had been talking about with the WPC, but said nothing.

`I'm going back down Mary King's Close,' Rebus said quietly. `Anyone want to tag along?’

He had two takers.

Rebus was keeping an eye on Brian Holmes. Holmes hadn't tendered his resignation yet, but you never knew when it might come. When you joined the police, of course, you signed on for the long haul, but Holmes's significant other was pulling on the other end of the rope, and it was hard to tell who'd win the tug o' war.

On the other hand, Rebus had stopped keeping an eye on Siobhan Clarke. She was past her probation, and was going to be a good detective. She was quick, clever and keen. Police officers were seldom all three. Rebus himself might pitch for thirty per cent on a good day.

The day was overcast and sticky, with lots of bugs in the air and no sign of a dispersing breeze.

'What are they, greenfly?’

'Maybe midges.’

'I'll tell you what they are, they're disgusting.’

The windscreen was smeared by the time they reached the City Chambers, and there being no fluid in the wiper bottle, the windscreen stayed that way. It struck Rebus that the Festival really was a High Street thing. Most of the city centre streets were as quiet or as busy as usual. The High Street was the hub. The Chambers' small car park being full, he parked on the High Street. When he got out, he brought a sheet of kitchen-towel with him, spat on it, and cleaned the windscreen.

`What we need is some rain.’

'Don't say that.’

A transit van and a flat-back trailer were parked outside the entrance to Mary King's Close, evidence that the builders were back at work. The butcher's shop would still be taped off, but that didn't stop the renovations.

'Inspector Rebus?’

An old man had been waiting for them. He was tall fit looking and wore an open cream-coloured raincoat despite the day's heat. His hair had turned not grey silver but a kind of custard yellow, and he wore half-moon glasses most of the way down his nose, as though he needed them only to check the cracks in the pavement.

'Mr Blair-Fish?’

Rebus shook the brittle hand.

'I'd like to apologise again. My great-nephew can be such a 'No need to apologise, sir. Your great-nephew did us a favour. If he hadn't gone down there with those two lassies, we wouldn't have found the body so fast as we did. The quicker the better in a murder investigation.’

Blair-Fish inspected his oft-repaired shoes, then accepted this with a slow nod. 'Still, it's an embarrassment.’

'Not to us, sir.’

'No, I suppose not.’

'Now, if you'll lead the way…?’

Mr Blair-Fish led the way.

He took them in through the door and down the flights of stairs, out of daylight and into a world of low-wattage bulbs beyond which lay the halogen glare of the builders. It was like looking at a stage-set. The workers moved with the studied precision of actors. You could charge a couple of quid a time and get an audience, if not a Fringe First Award. The gaffer knew police when he saw their, and nodded a greeting. Otherwise, nobody paid much attention; except for the occasional sideways and appraising glance towards Siobhan Clarke. Builders were builders, below ground as above.

Blair-Fish was providing a running commentary. Rebus reckoned he'd been the guide when the constable had come on the tour. Rebus heard about how the close had been a thriving thoroughfare prior to the plague, only one of many such plagues to hit Edinburgh. When the denizens moved back, they swore the close was haunted by the spirits of those who had perished there. They all moved out again and the – street fell into disuse. Then came a fire, leaving only the first few storeys untouched. (Edinburgh tenements back then could rise to a precarious twelve storeys or more.) After which, the city merely laid slabs across what remained and built again, burying Mary King's Close.

`The old town was a narrow place, you must remember, built along a ridge or, if you enjoy legend, on the back of a buried serpent. Long and narrow. Everyone was squeezed together, rich and poor living cheek by jowl. In a tenement like this you'd have your paupers at the top, your gentry in the middle floors, and your artisans and commercial people at street level.’

`So what happened?’ asked Holmes, genuinely interested.

`The gentry got fed up,' said Blair-Fish. `When the New Town was built on the other side of Nor' Loch, they were quick to move. With the gentry gone, the old town became dilapidated, and stayed that way for a long time.’

He pointed down some steps into an alcove. 'That was the baker's. See those flat stones? That's where the oven was. If you touch them, they're still warmer than the stones around them.’

Siobhan Clarke had to test-this. She came back shrugging. Rebus was glad he'd brought Holmes and Clarke with him. They kept Blair-Fish busy while he could keep a surreptitious eye on the builders. This had been his plan all along: to appear to be inspecting Mary King's Close, while really inspecting the builders. They didn't look nervous; well, no more nervous than you would expect. They kept their eyes away from the butcher's shop, and whistled quietly as they worked. They did not seem inclined to discuss the murder. Someone was up a ladder dismantling a run of pipes. Someone else was mending brickwork at the top of a scaffold.

Further into the tour, away from the builders, Blair-Fish took Siobhan Clarke aside to show her where a child had been bricked up in a chimney, a common complaint among eighteenth-century chimney sweeps.

‘The Farmer asked a good question,’ Rebus confided, to Holmes. 'He said, why would you bring anyone down here Think about it. It shows you must be local. Only locals know about Mary King's Close, and even then only a select few.’

It was true, the public tour of the close was not common knowledge, and tours themselves were by no means frequent.

'They'd have to have been down here themselves, or know someone who had. If not, they'd more likely get lost than find the butcher's.’

Holmes nodded. `A shame there's no record of the tour parties.’

This had been checked, the tours were informal, parties of a dozen or more at a time. There was no written record. `Could be they knew about the building work and reckoned the body would be down here for weeks.’

`Or maybe,' said Rebus, `the building work is the reason they were down here in the first place. Someone might have tipped them off. We're checking everyone.’

`Is that why we're here just now? Giving the crew a once-over?’

Rebus nodded, and Holmes nodded back. Then he had an idea. 'Maybe it was a way of sending a message.’

`That's what I've been wondering. But what kind of message; and who to?’

`You don't go for the IRA idea?’

`It's plausible and implausible at the same time,' Rebus said. `We've got nothing here to interest the paramilitaries.”

`We've got Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, the Festival…’

'He has a point.’

They turned towards the voice. Two men were standing in torchlight. Rebus recognised neither of them. As the men came forwards, Rebus studied both. The man who had spoken, the slightly younger of the two, had an English accent and the look of a London copper. It was the hands in the trouser pockets that did it. That and the air of easy superiority that went with the gesture. Plus of course he was wearing old denims and a black leather bomber-jacket. He had close cropped brown hair spiked with gel, and a heavy pockmarked face. He was probably in his late-thirties but looked like a forty-something with coronary problems. His eyes were a piercing blue. It was difficult to meet them. He didn't blink often, like he didn't want to miss any of the show.

The other man was well-built and fit, in his late-forties, with ruddy cheeks and a good head of black hair just turning silver at the edges. He looked as if he needed to shave two or even three times a day. His suit was dark blue and looked straight off the tailor's dummy. He was smiling.

'Inspector Rebus?’

'The same.’

'I'm DCI Kilpatrick.’

Rebus knew the name of course. It was interesting at last to have a face to put to it. If he remembered right, Kilpatrick was still in the SCS, the Scottish Crime Squad.

'I thought you worked out of Stuart Street, sir,' Rebus said, shaking hands.

'I moved back from Glasgow a few months ago. I don't suppose it made the front page of the Scotsman, but I'm heading the squad here now.’

Rebus nodded. The SCS took on serious crimes, where cross-force investigations were necessary. Drugs were their main concern, or had been. Rebus knew men who'd been seconded to the SCS. You stayed three or four years and came out two things: unwillingly, and tough as second-day bacon. Kilpatrick was introducing his companion, 'This is DI Abernethy from Special Branch. He's come all the way from London to see us.’

'That takes the biscuit,' said Rebus.

'My grandad was a Jock,' Abernethy answered, gripping Rebus's hand and not getting the joke. Rebus introduced Holmes and, when she returned, Siobhan Clarke. From the colouring in Clarke's cheeks, Rebus reckoned someone along the way had made a pass at her. He decided to rule out Mr Blair-Fish, which still left plenty of suspects.

'So,' said Abernethy at last, rubbing his hands, 'where's this slaughterhouse?’

'A butcher's actually,' Mr Blair-Fish explained.

'I know what I mean,' said Abernethy. Mr Blair-Fish led the way. But Kilpatrick held Rebus back.

'Look,' he whispered, 'I don't like this bastard being here any more than you do, but if we're tolerant we'll get rid of him all the quicker, agreed?’

'Yes, sir.’

Kilpatrick's was a Glaswegian accent, managing to be deeply nasal even when reduced to a whisper, and managing, too, to be full of irony and a belief that Glasgow was the centre of the universe. Usually, Glaswegians somehow added to all this a ubiquitous chip on their shoulder, but Kilpatrick didn't seem the type.

'So no more bloody cracks about biscuits.’

'Understood, sir.’

Kilpatrick waited a moment. 'It was you who noticed the paramilitary element, wasn't it?’

Rebus nodded. 'Good work.’

'Thank you, sir.’

Yes, and Glaswegians could be patronising bastards, too.

When they rejoined the group, Holmes gave Rebus a questioning look, to which Rebus replied with a shrug. At least the shrug was honest.

'So they strung him up here,' Abernethy was saying. He looked around at the setting. 'Bit melodramatic, eh? Not the IRA's style at all. Give them a lock-up or a warehouse, "something like that. But someone who likes a bit of drama set this up.’

Rebus was impressed. It was another possible reason for the choice of venue.

'Bang-bang,' Abernethy continued, 'then back upstairs to melt into the crowd, maybe take in a' late-night revue before toddling home.’

Clarke interrupted. 'You think there's some connection with the Festival?’

Abernethy studied her openly, causing Brian Holmes to straighten up. Not for the first time, Rebus wondered about Clarke and Holmes.

'Why not?’

Abernethy said. 'It's every bit as feasible as anything else I've heard.’

'But it was a six-pack.’ Rebus felt obliged to defend his corner.

'No,' Abernethy corrected, 'a seven-pack. And that's not paramilitary style at all. A waste of bullets for a start.’

He looked to Kilpatrick. 'Could be a drug thing. Gangs like a bit of melodrama, it makes them look like they're in a film. Plus they do like to send messages to each other. Loud messages.’

Kilpatrick nodded. 'We're considering it.’

'My money'd still be on terrorists,' Rebus added. 'A gun like that-‘

'Dealers use guns, too, inspector. They like guns. Big ones to make a big loud noise. I'll tell you something, I'd hate to have been down here. The report from a nine-millimetre in an enclosed space like this. It could blow out your eardrums.’

'A silencer,' Siobhan Clarke offered. It wasn't her day. Abernethy just gave her a look, so Rebus provided the explanation.

'Revolvers don't take silencers.’

Abernethy pointed to Rebus, but his eyes were on Clarke's. 'Listen to your Inspector, darling, you might learn something.’

Rebus looked around the room. There were six people there, four of whom would gladly punch another's lights out.

He didn't think Mr Blair-Fish would enter the fray.

Abernethy meantime had sunk to his knees, rubbing his fingers over the floor, over ancient dirt and husks.

'The SOCOs took off the top inch of earth,' Rebus said, but Abernethy wasn't listening. Bags and bags of the stuff had been taken to the sixth floor of Fettes HQ to be sieved and analysed and God knew what else by the forensics lab.

It occurred to Rebus that all the group could now see of Abernethy was a fat arse and brilliant white Reeboks. Abernethy turned his face towards them and smiled. Then he got up, brushing his palms together.

'Was the deceased a drug user?’

'No signs.’

'Only I was thinking, SaS, could be Smack and Speed.’

Again, Rebus was impressed, thoroughly despite himself. Dust had settled in the gel of Abernethy's hair, small enough motes of comfort.

'Could be Scott and Sheena,' offered Rebus. In other words: could be anything. Abernethy just shrugged. He'd been giving them a display, and now the show was over.

'I think I've seen enough,' he said. Kilpatrick nodded with relief. It must be hard, Rebus reflected, being a top cop in your field, a man with a rep, sent to act as tour guide for a junior officer… and a Sassenach at that.

Galling, that was the word.

Abernethy was speaking again. 'Might as well drop in on the Murder Room while I'm here.’

'Why not?’ said Rebus coldly.

'No reason I can think of,' replied Abernethy, all sweetness and bite.

'And what you've got doesn't make much sense.’





5




St Leonard's police station, headquarters of the city's B Division, boasted a semi-permanent Murder Room. The present inquiry looked like it had been going on forever. Abernethy seemed to favour the scene. He browsed among the computer screens, telephones, wall charts and photographs. Kilpatrick touched Rebus's arm.

'Keep an eye on him, will you? I'll just go say hello to your Chief Super while I'm here.’

'Right, sir.’

Chief Inspector Lauderdale watched him leave. 'So that's Kilpatrick of the Crime Squad, eh? Funny, he looks almost mortal.’

It was true that Kilpatrick's reputation – a hard one to live up to – preceded him. He'd had spectacular successes in Glasgow, and some decidedly public failures too. Huge quantities of drugs had been seized, but a few terrorist suspects had managed to slip away.

'At least he looks human,' Lauderdale went on, 'which is more than can be said for our cockney friend.’

Abernethy couldn't have heard this – he was out of earshot – but he looked up suddenly towards them and grinned. Lauderdale went to take a phone call, and the Special Branch man sauntered back towards Rebus, hands stuffed into his jacket pockets.

'It's a good operation this, but there's not much to go on, is there?’

'Not much.’

'Not yet.’

'You worked with Scotland Yard on a case, didn't you?’

'That's right.’

'With George Flight?’

'Right again.’

'He's gone for retraining, you know. I mean, at his age. Got interested in computers, I don't know, maybe he's got a point. They're the future of crime, aren't they? Day's coming, the big villains won't have to move from their living rooms.’

'The big villains never have.’

This earned a smile from Abernethy, or at least a lopsided sneer. 'Has my minder gone for a jimmy?’

'He's gone to say hello to someone.’

'Well tell him ta-ta from me.’

Abernethy looked around, then lowered his voice. 'I don't think DCI Kilpatrick will be sorry to see the back of me.’

'What makes you say that?’

Abernethy chuckled. 'Listen to you. If your voice was any colder you could store cadavers in it. Still think you've got terrorists in Edinburgh?’

Rebus said nothing. 'Well, it's your problem. I'm well shot of it. Tell Kilpatrick I'll talk to him before I head south.’

'You're supposed to stay here.’

'Just tell him I'll be in touch.’

There was no painless way of stopping Abernethy from leaving, so Rebus didn't even try. But he didn't think Kilpatrick would be happy. He picked up one of the phones. What did Abernethy mean about it being Rebus's problem? If there was a terrorist connection, it'd be out of CID's hands. It would become Special Branch's domain, MI5's domain. So what did he mean? He gave Kilpatrick the message, but Kilpatrick didn't seem bothered after all. There was relaxation in his voice, the sort that came with a large whisky. The Farmer had stopped drinking for a while, but was back off the wagon again. Rebus wouldn't mind a drop himself…

Lauderdale, who had also just put down a telephone, was staring at a pad on which he'd been writing as he took the call.

'Something?’ Rebus asked.

'We may have a positive ID on the victim. Do you want to check it out?’

Lauderdale tore the sheet from the pad.

'Do Hibs fans weep?’ Rebus answered, accepting it.

Actually, not all Hibs fans were prone to tears. Siobhan Clarke supported Hibernian, which put her in a minority at St Leonard's. Being English-educated (another minority, much smaller) she didn't understand the finer points of Scottish bigotry, though one or two of her fellow officers had attempted to educate her. She wasn't Catholic, they explained patiently, so she should support Heart of Midlothian. Hibernian were the Catholic team. Look at their name, look at their green strip. They were Edinburgh's version of Glasgow Celtic, just as Hearts were like Glasgow Rangers.

'It's the same in England,' they'd tell her. 'Wherever you've got Catholics and Protestants in the same place.’

Manchester had United (Catholic) and City (Protestant), Liverpool had Liverpool (Catholic) and Everton (Protestant). It only got complicated in London. London even had Jewish teams.

Siobhan Clarke just smiled, shaking her head. It was no use arguing, which didn't stop her trying. They just kept joking with her, teasing her, trying to convert her. It was light-hearted, but she couldn't always tell how lighthearted. The Scots tended to crack jokes with a straight face and be deadly serious when they smiled. When some officers at St Leonard's found out her birthday was coming, she found herself unwrapping half a dozen Hearts scarves. They all went to a charity shop.

She'd seen the darker side of football loyalty, too. The collection tins at certain games. Depending on where you were standing, you'd be asked to donate to either one cause or the other. Usually it was for 'families' or 'victims' or 'prisoners' aid', but everyone who gave knew they might be perpetuating the violence in Northern Ireland. Fearfully, most gave. One pound sterling towards the price of a gun.

She'd come across the same thing on Saturday when, with a couple of friends, she'd found herself standing at the Hearts end of the ground. The tin had come round, and she'd ignored it. Her friends were quiet after that.

'We should be doing something about it,' she complained to Rebus in his car. 'Such as?’

'Get an undercover team in there, arrest whoever's behind it.’

'Behave.’

'Well why not?’

'Because it wouldn't solve anything and there'd be no charge we could make stick other than something paltry like not having a licence. Besides, if you ask me most of that cash goes straight into the collector's pocket. It never reaches Northern Ireland.’

'But it's the principle of the thing.’

'Christ, listen to you.’

Principles: they were slow to go, and some coppers never lost them entirely. 'Here we are.’

He reversed into a space in front of a tenement block on Mayfield Gardens. The address was a top floor flat.

`Why is it always the top floor?’ Siobhan complained.

'Because that's where the poor people live.’

There were two doors on the top landing. The name on one doorbell read MURDOCK. There was a brown bristle welcome-mat just outside the door. The message on it was GET LOST!

'Charming.’ Rebus pressed the bell. The door was opened by a bearded man wearing thick wire-framed glasses. The beard didn't help, but Rebus would guess the man's age at mid-twenties. He had thick shoulder-length black hair, through which he ran a hand.

'I'm Detective Inspector Rebus. This is 'Come in, come in. Mind out for the motorbike.’

'Yours, Mr Murdock?’

`No, it's Billy's. It hasn't worked since he moved in.’

The bike's frame was intact, but the engine lay disassembled along the hall carpet, lying on old newspapers turned black from oil. Smaller pieces were in polythene bags, each bag tied at the neck and marked with an identifying number.

'That's clever,' said Rebus.

'Oh aye,' said Murdock, 'he's organised is Billy. In here.’

He led them into a cluttered living area. 'This is Millie, she lives here.’

'Hiya.’

Millie was sitting on the sofa swathed in a sleeping bag, despite the heat outside. She was watching the television and smoking a cigarette.

'You phoned us, Mr Murdock.’

'Aye, well, it's about Billy.’

Murdock began to pad around the room. 'See, the description in the paper and on the telly, well… I didn't think about it at the time, but as Millie says, it's not like Billy to stay away so long. Like I say, he's organised. Usually he'd phone or something, just to let us know.’

'When did you last see him?’

Murdock looked to Millie. 'When was it, Thursday night?’

'I saw him Friday morning.’

`So you did.’

Rebus turned to Millie. She had short fair hair, dark at the roots, and dark eyebrows. Her face was long and plain, her chin highlighted by a protruding mole. Rebus reckoned she was a few years older than Murdock. 'Did he say where he was going?’

`He didn't say anything. There's not a lot of conversation in this flat at that hour.’

'What hour?’

She flicked ash into the ashtray which was balanced on her sleeping bag. It was a nervous habit, the cigarette being tapped even when there was no ash for it to surrender. 'Seven thirty, quarter to eight,' she said.

'Where does he work?’

'He doesn't,' said Murdock, resting his hand on the mantelpiece. 'He used to work in the Post Office, but they laid him off a few months back. He's on the dole now, along with half of Scotland.’

'And what do you do, Mr Murdock?’

'I'm a computer consultant.’

Sure enough, some of the living room's clutter was made up of keyboards and disk drives, some of them dismantled, piled on top of each other. There were piles of fat magazines too, and books, hefty operating manuals.

'Did either of you know Billy before he moved in?’

'I did,' said Millie. 'A friend of a friend, casual acquaintance sort of thing. I knew he was looking for a room, and there was a room going spare here, so I suggested him to Murdock.’

She changed channels on the TV. She was watching with the sound turned off, watching through a squint of cigarette smoke.

'Can we see Billy's room?’

'Why not?’ said Murdock. He'd been glancing nervously towards Millie all the time she'd been talking. He seemed relieved to be in movement. He took them back into where the narrow entrance hall became a wider rectangle, off which were three doors. One was a cupboard, one the kitchen. Back along the narrow hall they'd passed the bathroom on one side and Murdock's bedroom on the other. Which left just this last door.

It led them into a very small, very tidy bedroom. The room itself would be no more than ten feet by eight, yet it managed to contain single bed, wardrobe, a chest of drawers and a writing desk and chair. A hi-fi unit, including speakers, sat atop the chest of drawers. The bed had been made, and there was nothing left lying around.

'You haven't tidied up, have you?’

Murdock shook his head. 'Billy was always tidying. You should see the kitchen.’

'Do you have a photograph of Billy?’

Rebus asked.

'I might have some from one of our parties. You want to look at them?’

'Just the best one will do.’

'I'll fetch it then.’

'Thank you.’

When Murdock had gone, Siobhan squeezed into the room beside Rebus. Until then, she'd been forced to stay just outside the door.

'Initial thoughts?’ Rebus asked.

'Neurotically tidy,' she said, the comment of one whose own fiat- looked like a cross between a pizza franchise and a bottle bank.

But Rebus was studying the walls. There was a Hearts pennant above the bed, and a Union Jack flag on which the Red Hand of Ulster was centrally prominent, with above it the words 'No Surrender' and below it the letters FTP. Even Siobhan Clarke knew what those stood for.

'Fuck the Pope,' she murmured.

Murdock was back. He didn't attempt to squeeze into the narrow aisle between bed and wardrobe, but stood in the doorway and handed the photo to Siobhan Clarke, who handed it to Rebus. It showed a young man smiling manically for the camera. Behind him you could see a can of beer held high, as though someone were about to pour it over his head.

'It's as good a photo as we've got,' Murdock said by way of apology.

'Thank you, Mr Murdock.’

Rebus was almost sure. Almost. 'Billy had a tattoo?’

'On his arm, aye. It looked like one of those things you do yourself when you're a daft laddie.’

Rebus nodded. They'd released details of the tattoo, looking for a quick result.

'I never really looked at it close up,' Murdock went on, 'and Billy never talked about it.’

Millie had joined him in the doorway. She had discarded the sleeping bag and was wearing a modestly long t-shirt over bare legs. She put an arm around Murdock's waist. 'I remember it,' she said. 'SaS. Big S, small a.’

'Did he ever tell you what it stood for?’

She shook her head. Tears were welling in her eyes. 'It's him, isn't it? He's the one you found dead?’

Rebus tried to-be non-committal, but his face gave him away. Millie started to bawl, and Murdock hugged her to him. Siobhan Clarke had lifted some cassette tapes from the chest of drawers and was studying them. She handed them silently to Rebus. They were collections of Orange songs, songs about the struggle in Ulster. Their titles said it all: The sash and other Glories, King Billy's Marching Tunes, No Surrender. He stuck one of the tapes in his pocket.

They did some more searching of Billy Cunningham's room, but came up with little excepting a recent letter from his mother. There was no address on the letter, but it bore a Glasgow postmark, and Millie recalled Billy saying something about coming from Hillhead. Well, they'd let Glasgow deal with it. Let Glasgow break the news to some unsuspecting family.

In one of the drawers, Siobhan Clarke came up with a Fringe programme. It contained the usual meltdown of Abigail's Partys and Krapp's Last Tapes, revues called things like Teenage Alsatian Orgy, and comic turns on the run from London fatigue.

'He's ringed a show,' said Clarke.

So he had, a country and western act at the Crazy Hose Saloon. The act had appeared for three nights back at the start of the Festival.

'There's no country music in his collection,' Clarke commented.

'At least he showed taste,' said Rebus.

On the way back to the station, he pushed the Orange tape into his car's antiquated machine.

The tape played slow, which added to the grimness. Rebus had heard stuff like it before, but not for a wee while. Songs about King Billy and the Apprentice Boys, the Battle of the Boyne and the glory of 1690, songs about routing the Catholics and why the men of Ulster would struggle to the end. The singer had a pub vibrato and little else, and was backed by accordion, snare and the occasional flute. Only an Orange marching band could make the flute sound martial to the ears. Well, an Orange marching band or lain Anderson from Jethro Tull. Rebus was reminded that he hadn't listened to Tull in an age. Anything would be better than these songs of… the word 'hate' sprang to mind, but he dismissed it. There was no vitriol in the lyrics, just a stern refusal to compromise in any way, to give ground, to accept that things could change now that the 1690s had become the 1990s. It was all blinkered and backward looking. How narrow a view could you get?

'The sod is,' said Siobhan Clarke, 'you find yourself humming the tunes after.’

'Aye,' said Rebus, 'bigotry's catchy enough all right.’

And he whistled Jethro Tull all the way back to St Leonard's.

Lauderdale had arranged a press conference and wanted to know what Rebus knew.

'I'm not positive,' was the answer. 'Not a hundred per cent.’

'How close?’

'Ninety, ninety-five.’

Lauderdale considered this. 'So should I say anything?’

'That's up to you, sir. A fingerprint team's on its way to the flat. We'll know soon enough one way or the other.’

One of the problems with the victim was that the last killing shot had blown away half his face, the bullet entering through the back of the neck and tearing up through the jaw. As Dr Curt had explained, they could do an ID covering up the bottom half of the face, allowing a friend or relative to see just the top half. But would that be enough? Before today's potential break, they'd been forced to consider dental work. The victim's teeth were the usual result of a Scottish childhood, eroded by sweets and shored up by dentistry. But as the forensic pathologist had said, the mouth was badly damaged, and what dental work remained was fairly routine. There was nothing unusual there for any dentist to spot definitively as his or her work.

Rebus arranged for the party photograph to be reprinted and sent to Glasgow with the relevant details. Then he went to Lauderdale's press conference.

Chief Inspector Lauderdale loved his duels with the media. But today he was more nervous than usual. Perhaps it was that he had a larger audience than he was used to, Chief Superintendent Watson and DCI Kilpatrick having emerged from somewhere to listen. Both sported faces too ruddy to be natural, whisky certainly the cause. While the journalists sat towards the front of the room, the police officers stood to the back. Kilpatrick saw Rebus and sidled over to him.

'You may have a positive ID?’ he whispered.

'Maybe.’

'So is it drugs or the IRA?’

There was a wry smile on his face. He didn't really expect an answer, it was the whisky asking, that was all. But Rebus had an answer for him anyway.

'If it's anybody,' he said, 'it's not the IRA but the other lot.’

There were so many names for them he didn't even begin to list them: UDA, UVF, UFF, UR… The U stood for Ulster in each case. They were proscribed organisations, and they were all Protestant. Kilpatrick rocked back a little on his heels. His face was full of questions, fighting their way to the surface past the burst blood vessels which cherried nose and cheeks. A drinker's face. Rebus had seen too many of them, including his own some nights in the bathroom mirror.

But Kilpatrick wasn't so far gone. He knew he was in no condition to ask questions, so he made his way back to the Farmer instead, where he spoke a few words. Farmer Watson glanced across to Rebus, then nodded to Kilpatrick Then they turned their attention back to the press briefing.

Rebus knew the reporters. They were old hands mostly, and knew what to expect from Chief Inspector Lauderdale. You might walk into a Lauderdale session sniffing and baying like a bloodhound, but you shuffled out like a sleepy faced pup. So they, stayed quiet mostly, and let him have his insubstantial say.

Except for Mairie Henderson. She was down at the front, asking questions the others weren't bothering to ask; weren't bothering for the simple reason that they knew the answer the Chief Inspector would give.

'No comment,' he told Mairie for about the twentieth time. She gave up and slumped in her chair. Someone else asked a question, so she looked around, surveying the room. Rebus jerked his chin in greeting. Mairie glared and stuck her tongue out at him. A few of the other journalists looked around in his direction. Rebus smiled out their inquisitive stares.

The briefing over, Mairie caught up with him in the corridor. She was carrying a legal notepad, her usual blue fineliner pen, and a recording walkman.

'Thanks for your help the other night,' she said.

'No comment.’

She knew it was a waste of time getting angry at John Rebus, so exhaled noisily instead. 'I was first on the scene, I could have had a scoop.’

'Come to the pub with me and you can have as many scoops as you like.’

'That one's so weak it's got holes in its knees.’

She turned and walked off, Rebus watching her. He never liked to pass up the opportunity of looking at her legs.





6




Edinburgh City Mortuary was sited on the Cowgate, at the bottom of High School Wynd and facing St Ann's Community Centre and Blackfriars Street. The building was low-built red brick and pebbledash, purposely anonymous and tucked in an out of the way place. Steep sloping roads led up towards the High Street. For a long time now, the Cowgate had been a thoroughfare for traffic, not pedestrians. It was narrow and deep like a canyon, its pavements offering scant shelter from the taxis and cars rumbling past. The place was not for the faint-hearted. Society's underclass could be found there, when it wasn't yet time to shuffle back to the hostel.

But the street was undergoing redevelopment, including a court annexe. First they'd cleaned up the Grassmarket, and now the city fathers had the Cowgate in their sights.

Rebus waited outside the mortuary for a couple of minutes, until a woman poked her head out of the door.

'Inspector Rebus?’

'That's right.’

'He told me to tell you he's already gone to Bannerman's.’

'Thanks.’

Rebus headed off towards the pub.

Bannerman's had been just cellarage at one time, and hadn't been altered much since. Its vaulted rooms were unnervingly like those of the shops in Mary King's Close. Cellars like these formed connecting burrows beneath the Old Town, worming from the Lawnmarket down to the Canongate and beyond. The bar wasn't busy yet, and Curt was sitting by the window, his beer glass resting on a barrel which served as table. Somehow, he'd found one of the few comfortable chairs in the place. It looked like a minor nobleman's perch, with armrests and high back. Rebus bought a double whisky for himself, dragged over a stool, and sat down.

'Your health, John.’

'And yours.’

'So what can I do for you?’

Even in a pub, Rebus would swear he could smell soap and surgical alcohol wafting up from Curt's hands. He took a swallow of whisky. Curt frowned.

'Looks like I might be examining your liver sooner than I'd hoped.’

Rebus nodded towards the pack of cigarettes on the table. They were Curt's and they were untipped. 'Not if you keep smoking those.’

Dr Curt smiled. He hadn't long taken up smoking, having decided to see just how indestructible he was. He wouldn't call it a death wish exactly; it was merely an exercise in mortality.

'How long have you and Ms Rattray been an item then?’

Curt laughed. 'Dear God, is that why I'm here? You want to ask me about Caroline?’

'Just making conversation. She's not bad though.’

'Oh, she's quite something.’

Curt lit a cigarette and inhaled, nodding to himself. 'Quite something,' he repeated through a cloud of smoke.

'We may have a name for the victim in Mary King's Close. It's up to fingerprints now.’

'Is that why you wanted to see me? Not just to discuss Carol, 'I want to talk about guns.’

'I'm no expert on guns.’

"Good. I'm not after an expert, I'm after someone I can talk to. Have you seen the ballistics report?’

Curt shook his head. 'We're looking at something like a Smith and Wesson model 547, going by the rifling marks – five grooves, righthand twist. It's a revolver, takes six rounds of nine millimetre parabellum.’

'You've lost me already.’

'Probably the version with the three-inch rather than four-inch barrel, which means a weight of thirty-two ounces.’

Rebus sipped his drink. There were whisky fumes in his nostrils now, blocking any other smells. 'Revolvers don't accept silencers.’

'Ah.’ Curt nodded. 'I begin to see some light.’

'A confined space like that, shaped the way it was…’

Rebus nodded past the bar to the room beyond. 'Much the same size and shape as this.’

'It would have been loud.’

'Bloody loud. Deafening, you might say.’

'Meaning what exactly?’

Rebus shrugged. 'I'm just wondering how professional all of this really was. I mean, on the surface, if you look at the style of execution, then yes, it was a pro job, no question. But then things start to niggle.’

Curt considered. 'So what now? Do we scour the city for recent purchasers of hearing-aids?’

Rebus smiled. 'It's a thought.’

'All I can tell you, John, is that those bullets did damage. Whether meant to or not, they were messy. Now, we've both come up against messy killers before. Usually the facts of the mess make it easier to find them. But this time there doesn't seem to be much evidence left lying around, apart from the bullets.’

'I know.’

Curt slapped his hand on the barrel. 'Tell you what, I've got a suggestion.’

'What is it?’

He leaned forward, as if to impart a secret. 'Let me give you Caroline Rattray's phone number.’

'Bugger off,' said Rebus.

That evening, a marked patrol car picked him up from Patience's Oxford Terrace flat. The driver was a Detective Constable called Robert Burns, and Burns was doing Rebus a favour.

'I appreciate it,' said Rebus.

Though Burns was attached to C Division in the west end, he'd been born and raised in Pilmuir, and still had friends and enemies there. He was a known quantity in the Gar-B, which was what mattered to Rebus.

'I was born in one of the pre-fabs,' Burns explained. 'Before they levelled them to make way for the high-rises. The high-rises were supposed to more "civilised", if you can believe that. Bloody architects and town planners. You never find one admitting he made a mistake, do you?’

He smiled. 'They're a bit like us that way.’

'By "us" do you mean the police or the Wee Frees?’

Burns was more than just a member of the Free Church of Scotland. On Sunday afternoons he took his religion to the foot of The Mound, where he spouted hellfire and brimstone to anyone who'd listen. Rebus had listened a few times. But Burns took a break during the Festival. As he'd pointed out, even his voice would be fighting a losing battle against steel bands and untuned guitars.

They were turning into the Gar-B, passing the gable end again with its sinister greeting.

'Drop me as close as you can, eh?’

"Sure,' said Burns. And when they came to the dead end near the garages, he slowed only fractionally as he bumped the car up first onto the pavement and then onto the grass. 'It's not my car,' he explained.

They drove beside the path past the garages and a highrise, until there was nowhere else to go. When Burns stopped, the car was resting about twelve feet from the community centre.

'I can walk from here,' said Rebus.

Kids who'd been lying on the centre's roof were standing now, watching them, cigarettes hanging from open mouths. People watched from the path and from open windows, too. Burns turned to Rebus.

'Don't tell me you wanted to sneak up on them?’

'This is just fine.’

He opened his door. 'Stay with the car. I don't want us losing any tyres.’

Rebus walked towards the community centre's wide open doors. The teenagers on the roof watched him with practised hostility. There were paper planes lying all around, some of them made airborne again temporarily by a gust of wind. As Rebus walked into the building, he heard grunting noises above him. His rooftop audience were pretending to be pigs.

There was no preliminary chamber, just the hall itself. At one end stood a high basketball hoop. Some teenagers were in a ruck around the grounded ball, feet scraping at ankles, hands pulling at arms and hair. So much for noncontact sports. On a makeshift stage sat a ghetto blaster, blaring out the fashion in heavy metal. Rebus didn't reckon he'd score many points by announcing that he'd been in at the birth. Most of these kids had been born after Anarchy in the UK, never mind Communication Breakdown.

There was a mix of ages, and it was impossible to pick out Peter Cave. He could be nodding his head to the distorted electric guitar. He could be smoking by the wall. Or in with the basketball brigade. But no, he was coming towards Rebus from the other direction, from a tight group which included black t-shirt from Rebus's first visit.

'Can I help?’

Father Leary had said he was in his mid-twenties, but he could pass for, late-teens. The clothes helped and he wore them well. Rebus had seen church people before when they wore denim. They usually looked as if they'd be more comfortable in something less comfortable. But Cave, in faded denim jeans and denim shirt, with half a dozen thin leather and metal bracelets around his wrists, he looked all right.

'Not many girls,' Rebus stated, playing for a little more time.

Peter Cave looked around. `Not just now. Usually there are more than this, but on a nice night…’

It was a nice night. He'd left Patience drinking cold rose wine in the garden. He had left her reluctantly. He got no initial bad feelings from Cave. The young man was fresh faced and clear-eyed and looked level headed too. His hair was long but by no means untidy, and his face was square and honest with a deep cleft in the chin.

'I'm sorry,' Cave said, 'I'm Peter Cave. I run the youth club.’

His hand shot out, bracelets sliding down his wrist. Rebus took the hand and smiled. Cave wanted to know who he was, a not unreasonable request.

'Detective Inspector Rebus.’

Cave nodded. 'Davey said a policeman had been round earlier. I thought probably he meant uniformed. What's the trouble, Inspector?’

'No trouble, Mr Cave.’

A circle of frowning onlookers had formed itself around the two of them. Rebus wasn't worried, not yet.

'Call me Peter.’

'Mr Cave,' Rebus licked his lips, 'how are things going here?’

``What do you mean?’

`A simple question, sir. Only, crime in Pilmuir hasn't exactly dropped since you started this place up.’

Cave bristled at that. 'There haven't been any gang fights.’

Rebus accepted this. 'But housebreaking, assaults… there are still syringes in the playpark and aerosols lying-.’

'Aerosols to you too.’ Rebus turned to see who had entered. It was the boy with the naked chest and denim jacket.

'Hello, Davey,' said Rebus. The ring had broken long enough to let denim jacket through.

The youth pointed a finger. 'I thought I said you didn't want to know my name?’

'I can't help it if people tell me things, Davey.’

'Davey Soutar,' Burns added. He was standing in the doorway, arms folded, looking like he was enjoying himself. He wasn't of course, it was just a necessary pose.

'Davey Soutar,' Rebus echoed.

Soutar had clenched his fists. Peter Cave attempted to intercede. 'Now, please. Is there a problem here, Inspector?’

'You tell me, Mr Cave.’ He looked around him. 'Frankly, we're a little bit concerned about this gang hut.’

Colour flooded Cave's cheeks. 'It's a youth centre.’

Rebus was now studying the ceiling. Nobody was playing basketball any more. The music had been turned right down. 'If you say so, sir.’

`Look, you come barging in here 'I don't recall barging, Mr Cave. More of a saunter. I didn't ask for trouble. If Davey here can be persuaded to unclench his fists, maybe you and me can have a quiet chat outside.’ He looked at the circle around them. 'I'm not one for playing to the cheap seats.’

Cave stared at Rebus, then at Soutar. He nodded slowly, his face drained of anger, and eventually Soutar let his hands relax. You could tell it was an effort. Burns hadn't put in an appearance for nothing.

'There now,' said Rebus. 'Come on, Mr Cave, let's you and me go for a walk.’

They walked across the playing fields. Burns had returned to the patrol car and moved it to a spot where he could watch them. Some teenagers watched from the back of the community centre and from its roof, but they didn't venture any closer than that.

'I really don't see, Inspector-.’

'You think you're doing a good job here, sir?’

Cave thought about it before answering. 'Yes, I do.’

'You think the experiment is a success?’

'A limited success so far, but yes, once again.’

He had his hands behind his back, head bowed a little. He looked like he didn't have a care in the world.

'No regrets?’

'None.’

'Funny then…’

'What?’

'Your church doesn't seem so sure.’

Cave stopped in his tracks. 'Is that what this is about? You're in Conor's congregation, is that it? He's sent you here to… what's the phrase? Come down heavy on me?’

'Nothing like that.’

'He's paranoid. He was the one who wanted me here. Now suddenly he's decided I should leave, ipso facto I must leave. He's used to getting his way after all. Well, I don't choose to leave. I like it fine here. Is that what he's afraid of? Well there's not much he can do about it, is there? And as far as I can see, Inspector, there's nothing you can do about it either, unless someone from the club is found breaking the law.’

Cave's face had reddened, his hands coming from behind his back so he could gesture with them.

'That lot break the law every day.’

`Now just a-.’

'No, listen for a minute. Okay, you got the Jaffas and the Tims together, but ask yourself why they were amenable. If they're not divided, they're united, and they're united for a reason. They're the same as before, only stronger. You must see that.’

'I see nothing of the sort. People can change, Inspector.’

Rebus had been hearing the line all his professional life. He sighed and toed the ground.

'You don't believe that?’

'Frankly, sir, not in this particular case, and the crime stats back me up. What you've got just now is a truce of, sorts, and it suits them because while there's a truce they can get busy carving up territory between them. Anyone threatens them, they can retaliate in spades… or even with spades. But it won't last, and when they split back into their separate gangs; there's going to be blood spilled, no way round it. Because now there'll be more at stake. Tell me, in your club tonight, how many Catholics were there?’

Cave didn't answer, he was too busy shaking his head. 'I feel sorry for you, really I do. I can smell cynicism off you like sulphur. I don't happen to believe anything you've just said.’

'Then you're every bit as naive as I am cynical, and that means they're just using you. Which is good, because the only way of looking at this is that you've been sucked into it and you accept it, knowing the truth.’

Cave's cheeks were red again. 'How dare you say that!' And he punched Rebus in the stomach, hard. Rebus had been punched by professionals, but he was unprepared and felt himself double over for a moment, getting his wind back. There was a burning feeling in his gut, and it wasn't whisky. He could hear cheering in the distance. Tiny figures were dancing up and down on the community centre roof. Rebus hoped they'd fall through it. He straightened up again.

'Is that what you call setting a good example, Mr Cave?’

Then he punched Cave solidly on the jaw. The young man stumbled backwards and almost fell.

He heard a double roar from the community centre. The youth of the Gar-B were clambering down from the roof, starting to run in his direction. Burns had started the car and was bumping it across the football pitch towards him. The car was outpacing the crowd, but only just. An empty can bounced off its rear windscreen. Burns barely braked as he caught up with Rebus. Rebus yanked the door open and got in, grazing a knee and an elbow. Then they were off again, making for the roadway.

'Well,' Burns commented, checking the rearview, 'that seemed to go off okay.’

Rebus was catching his breath and examining his elbow.

'How did you know Davey Soutar's name?’

'He's a maniac,' Burns said simply. 'I try to keep abreast of these things.’

Rebus exhaled loudly, rolling his sleeve back down. 'Never do a favour for a priest,' he said to himself.

`I'll bear that in mind, sir,' said Burns.





7




Rebus walked into the Murder Room next morning with a cup of delicatessen decaf and a tuna sandwich on wholemeal. He sat at his desk and peeled off the top from the styrofoam cup. From the corner of his eye he could see the fresh mound of paperwork which had appeared on his desk since yesterday. But he could ignore it for another five minutes.

The victim's fingerprints had been matched with those taken from items in Billy Cunningham's room. So now they had a name for the body, but precious little else. Murdock and Millie had been interviewed, and the Post Office were looking up their personnel files. Today, Billy's room would be searched again. They still didn't know who he was really. They still didn't know anything about where he came from or who his parents were. There was so much they didn't know.

In a murder investigation, Rebus had found, you didn't always need to know everything.

Chief Inspector Lauderdale was standing behind him. Rebus knew this because Lauderdale brought a smell with him. Not everyone could distinguish it, but Rebus could. It was as if talcum powder had been used in a bathroom to cover some less acceptable aroma. Then there was a click and the buzz of Lauderdale's battery-shaver. Rebus straightened at the sound.

'Chief wants to see you,' Lauderdale said. 'Breakfast can wait.’

Rebus stared at his sandwich.

'I said it can wait.’

Rebus nodded. 'I'll bring you back a mug of coffee, shall I, Sir?’ He took his own coffee with him, sipping it as he listened for a moment at Farmer Watson's door. There were voices inside, one of them more nasal than the other. Rebus knocked and entered. DCI Kilpatrick was sitting across the desk from the Farmer.

'Morning, John,' said the Chief Super. 'Coffee?’

Rebus raised his cup. 'Got some, sir.’

'Well, sit down.’

He sat next to Kilpatrick. 'Morning, sir.’

'Good morning, John.’

Kilpatrick was nursing a mug, but he wasn't drinking. The Farmer meantime was pouring himself a refill from his personal machine.

'Right, John,' he said at last, sitting down. 'Bottom line, you're being seconded to DCI Kilpatrick's section.’

Watson took a gulp of coffee, swilling it around his mouth. Rebus looked to Kilpatrick, who obliged with a confirmation.

'You'll be based with us at Fettes, but you're going to be our eyes and ears on this murder inquiry, liaison if you like, so you'll still spend most of your time here at St Leonard's.’

'But why?’

'Well, Inspector, this case might concern the Crime Squad.’

'Yes, sir, but why me in particular?’

'You've been in the Army. I notice you served in Ulster in the late '60s.’

`That was quarter of a century ago,' Rebus protested. An age spent forgetting all about it.

'Nevertheless, you'll agree there seem to be paramilitary aspects to this case. As you commented, the gun is not your everyday hold-up weapon. It's a type of revolver used by terrorists. A lot of guns have been corning into the UK recently. Maybe this murder will connect us to them.’

'Wait a second, you're saying you're not interested in the shooting, you're interested in the gun?’

`I think it will become clearer when I show you our operation at Fettes. I'll be through here in -‘ he looked at his watch `- say twenty minutes. That should give you time to say goodbye to your loved ones.’

He smiled.

Rebus nodded. He hadn't touched his coffee. A cooling scum had formed on its surface. 'All right, sir,' he said, getting to his feet.

He was still a little dazed when he got back to the Murder Room. Two detectives were being told a joke by a third. The joke was about a squid with no money, a restaurant bill, and the guy from the kitchen who washed up. The guy from the kitchen was called Hans.

Rebus was joining the SCS, the Bastard Brigade as some called it. He sat at his desk. It took him a minute to work out that something was missing.

'Which bollocks of you's eaten my sandwich?’

As he looked around the room, he saw that the joke had come to an untimely end. But no one was paying attention to him. A message was being passed through the place, changing the mood. Lauderdale came over to Rebus's desk. He was holding a sheet of fax paper.

'What is it?’ Rebus asked.

`Glasgow have tracked down Billy Cunningham's mother.’

'Good. Is she coming here?’

Lauderdale nodded distractedly. 'She'll be here for the formal ID.’

`No father?’

'The father and mother split up a long time ago. Billy was still an infant. She told us his name though.’

He handed over the fax sheet. 'It's Morris Cafferty.’

`What?’ Rebus's hunger left him.

'Morris Gerald Cafferty.’

Rebus read the fax sheet. 'Say it ain't so. It's just Glasg