Out of bounds, p.11
Out of Bounds, p.11Val McDermid
She’d left Jason ploughing through the paperwork on the Tina McDonald case. He’d sift the witness statements, prioritising those it might be worth revisiting. It was a tedious job, but one that was well within his capabilities. One thing Jason did possess was an eye for detail. Neither of them expected much from this part of the investigation, but it had to be dealt with. The DNA match was significant, but on its own it might not be a clincher. Any other evidence that might potentially back it up could be crucial if they found themselves taking a twenty-year-old case to court.
Karen went through the security check then headed for the Solicitors’ Room café. Colin Semple was already there, cappuccino and a scone to one side of the paperwork he was absorbed in. As she waited for her own Americano, she watched him automatically eat and drink without taking his eyes from the documents. She’d had little to do with family lawyers over the years, but she’d encountered Semple a few years previously in a complicated abduction case. She’d been impressed with his intelligence and quick grasp of complex situations, but more than that, she’d valued his calm and friendly presence. She’d met too many advocates over the years who clearly considered themselves only slightly junior to God. It had been a refreshing change to work with Semple.
She carried her coffee over and sat down opposite him. He glanced up then, seeing it was her, pushed his chair back and stood up, smiling. His brown eyes were reduced to slits by the deep crinkles at their corners. He was a big man, tall and softly fat. His disorganised thatch of sandy hair always reminded Karen of a Border terrier in need of stripping. Semple was dressed in his regular uniform – immaculately tailored black three-piece suit, brilliant white shirt and a violet bow-tie that matched the hankie peeping out of his top pocket and the silk lining of his jacket. ‘Good morning, Detective Chief Inspector. I must thank you for bringing me something out of the ordinary.’ His vowels were round and plummy, the product of an expensive Edinburgh education.
‘Nice to see you, Mr Semple.’ They sat down and Karen gestured at his papers. ‘What do you make of it?’
He inhaled deeply through his nose then exhaled through his plump lips. ‘It’s a balancing act. The interests of the individual versus the interests of justice, to render it most simply. We’re up in front of Sheriff Abercrombie, who I suspect may lean towards our side of the argument.’
‘That’s good news.’
‘There is also less good news, I’m afraid. I know you hoped when I managed to get such an early hearing that our opponents would not have time to organise themselves. Unfortunately for us, the adoptive parents have engaged counsel to argue on their behalf. In spite of the tightness of the timetable, they’ve managed to instruct Alexandra Cosgrove, for whom I have the greatest respect.’ He ran the tip of his index finger round the outside edge of his ear. ‘And she does have a case with some validity. So I am less fulsomely confident than I was when we spoke yesterday.’
Karen’s heart sank. Without the DNA, there was nothing. A discrepancy between bus and underground wasn’t going to make any kind of a case for her. Her disappointment must have shown in her face, for Semple chuckled, a low rumble that shook his belly.
‘O ye of little faith,’ he said. ‘Do not despair, DCI Pirie. I still think we can prevail.’ He cast a quick look at his watch and shuffled his papers together. ‘Showtime, Detective.’
The big difference between the family and the criminal courts, Karen remembered as she walked to the witness stand, was the amount of peripheral activity going on. In the criminal courts, lawyers, clerks and ushers moved discreetly in and out. Reporters slipped out to file copy – electronically, these days – then returned to catch up with proceedings. Members of the public arrived and departed according to their own particular timetables. But the family courts were different. The protection of privacy was always paramount, so the only people in the room were the ones the case mattered to. And they wanted to hear everything.
The other big difference was that the lawyers weren’t disguised as refugees from the seventeenth century. No wigs and gowns, just ordinary street clothes. Well, not always ordinary, Karen corrected herself. Semple was never going to be mistaken for anything other than what he was.
Once she’d gone through the formalities, he began to lead her through their case. She explained what had happened in the wake of Ross Garvie’s accident, she outlined the significance of familial DNA, the sheriff agreed that it wasn’t necessary to call a forensics expert to testify to the established science, and Karen admitted that yes, without being able to identify Ross Garvie’s biological father there would be no prospect of bringing Tina McDonald’s killer to book.
As she responded to Semple’s questions, she was aware of Alexandra Cosgrove’s scrutiny. The advocate, now on the far side of her half-century, had arctic white hair sculpted close to her head. With her pale skin and fine features, she looked like a version of Audrey Hepburn with all the colour stripped out. But there was nothing cute about her pale blue stare.
After Semple had finished questioning Karen, Sheriff Abercrombie raised one finger signalling a pause while she made some extra notes. Then she nodded to Cosgrove to continue.
The advocate took her time, never taking her eyes off Karen. ‘Twenty years have passed since this unfortunate young woman met her end, isn’t that right?’
‘And the police have not so much as identified a viable suspect?’
‘Until now, yes.’
‘My clients have protected their son from the knowledge that he was adopted. Are you aware of that?’
‘I am, yes.’ Karen wondered where this was going.
‘How confident are you that acquiring access to Ross Garvie’s original birth certificate will allow you to develop a viable suspect?’
‘I’m very confident.’ Karen hoped her expression matched her words. She caught Linda Garvie shaking her head, her lips pursed in a pessimistic line.
‘I suggest that confidence is misplaced. I suggest the chances are that there will be no father’s name on that birth certificate. Does that dent your confidence at all, DCI Pirie?’
She was starting to see where this was headed. ‘My unit is highly skilled in tracking people down. And mothers generally know who fathered their child even if they don’t include that information on the birth certificate.’
‘Your unit.’ Cosgrove smirked and looked at her notes. ‘That would be you and one detective constable?’
‘That’s our core unit, yes. But we can draw on other resources from within Police Scotland.’
‘In all likelihood, the mother’s life would have been chaotic. She may have had multiple partners. She may have been a victim of rape. Even if the two of you manage to trace Ross Garvie’s birth mother and she’s still alive, it’s entirely possible that’s not going to lead you to his father, isn’t it?’
‘I remain confident, Ms Cosgrove.’
Cosgrove’s perfectly shaped eyebrows rose as she assumed an expression of incredulity. ‘Do you really think this slender possibility outweighs the rights of my clients and their son to their human rights?’
‘That’s for the court to decide,’ Karen said, refusing to be drawn. ‘My job is to seek justice for Tina McDonald and answers for her family.’
The sheriff gave her a quick look over the top of her reading glasses, her mouth quirking in approval. Cosgrove released her after that, realising she wasn’t going to get any further.
Karen found a seat at the rear of the courtroom and settled down to listen to Semple make the case. He spoke eloquently about the need for the courts to support the police’s commitment to cold cases. He argued that releasing this information to the police would not necessarily have any impact on Ross Garvie. ‘This case is being heard in camera,’ he said. ‘If the opening of this record results in a criminal trial, there is no reason why Ross Garvie’s name needs to be spoken in open
Sheriff Abercrombie made more notes, gesturing to Semple that he should sit down. ‘Ms Cosgrove?’ she said eventually. ‘I’ll hear from you now.’
Cosgrove stood up, thrusting one hand into the pocket of her loose-fitting jacket. ‘My argument is simple, my lady. Article 8 of the Human Rights Act provides an inalienable right to a private and family life. Ross Garvie is a minor and his parents are quite correctly exercising that right on his behalf.’ She waved her free hand at the Garvies. ‘My learned friend Mr Semple is disingenuous in his claims that Ross Garvie’s identity can be protected from both Ross himself and the wider world. If a criminal trial ensues, the media will, as usual, have no regard for his rights, especially since he will by then almost certainly be an adult in the eyes of the law. The media, particularly the online media, will leave no stone unturned to reveal his identity. As we have seen more than once in the recent past, Police Scotland is not good at maintaining confidentiality. Unlike Detective Chief Inspector Pirie, I have no confidence that my clients’ rights will be protected. My lady, I ask that you not grant this request, and further that you injunct Police Scotland from revealing any information that might lead to their identification.’
There it was again. Police Scotland, the leaky sieve. Karen stifled a sigh. The Macaroon was supposed to be in charge of finding out where the information was seeping out. The trouble was he couldn’t detect his way out of a paper bag without a GPS. It made the job that much harder on the front line. People didn’t want to pass on confidential information if it was going to rebound on them.
Sheriff Abercrombie cleared her throat. ‘Thank you both. I see no need to rush to judgement in this matter. Justice has waited for twenty years. It can wait a little longer so that I can give this conundrum the consideration it deserves. I will issue my judgement in due course.’
And that was that. The Garvies glowered at her as Alexandra Cosgrove shepherded them out of the courtroom. ‘You’ve got no right to do this to us,’ Linda Garvie hissed as she passed. Her husband shushed her, putting an arm round her shoulders and hustling her away. Karen fell into step beside Semple as he left the room.
‘What do you think?’ she said.
‘I think we’ll be all right. To put not too fine a point on it, I suspect she may want to give it a day or two to see whether or not young Mr Garvie is going to stay with us.’
Karen drew in a sharp breath. ‘Harsh.’
Semple gave a sardonic smile. ‘But, I fear, true.’
Karen had just stepped out of the sheriff court on to the bustle of Chambers Street when someone called her name. She swivelled round, trying to see who it was. An arm waved from behind a pair of lumbering American backpackers. ‘Hey, Karen,’ the cry came again. Then a mop of black curls emerged, followed by a familiar grinning face.
Karen grinned right back. ‘Sunny O’Brien.’
Sunny sidestepped the wobbling rucksacks and pulled Karen into a hug. ‘How the hell are you?’ The Irish accent was thick and strong as a glass of Guinness, at odds with her brown skin, her hair and her dark eyes, the product of an Aboriginal mother and an Irish father. Sunny, whose temperament lived up to her given name, appeared delighted to see Karen.
‘Not bad,’ Karen said. And for a moment, on the receiving end of Sunny’s smile, it was the truth. ‘What are you doing here in Edinburgh?’
Sunny linked her arm in Karen’s. ‘I’m putting together a research proposal with a couple of chemists from the university here. We’ve been having a meeting and now I’m heading for a decent cup of coffee down at the Black Medicine café. Come on, bunk off and join me.’
Karen didn’t need to be asked twice. Sunny was an expert in fire and explosives, a professor at Dundee University. They’d met a few years before at a mutual friend’s birthday party, which could have doubled as a forensic science staff outing. For Karen, it had been the chance to make a fistful of useful contacts as well as having a bloody good night out. It was always satisfying to kill two birds with one stone.
They gossiped their way down the street and across South Bridge to the café. Armed with caffeine and brownies they settled on high-backed wooden benches near the back window. Sunny sipped her double espresso and sighed with contentment. ‘It’s not rocket science, so why is it so hard to get a five-star cup of coffee in these islands of ours?’ Then, suddenly serious, she said, ‘I’m not going to go on about this because I’m bloody sure you get it all the time, but just so’s you know, I’ve been thinking about you. I didn’t want to intrude, but I want to say, if you’re ready, when you’re ready for company, I’d be entirely delighted to go out for a pizza some night.’
It was, Karen thought, quite the most gracious offering of sympathy she’d had so far. ‘That’d be good,’ she said. ‘I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting close.’
‘Excellent. So, what fresh hell are you dealing with right now?’
‘Interesting but awkward. A familial DNA link on a twenty-year-old murder.’
‘Can’t say, sorry.’
‘Ach, you’re such a tease, Karen.’
Karen laughed. ‘I shouldn’t have said anything. What about you?’
‘Ach, you know, the usual. Analysing evidence from fires. Doing some research about current practice in terrorist bomb-making.’ She pulled an expressive face. ‘The usual bollocks.’
Her words caught Karen’s attention. It felt like another teasing hook drawing her towards Gabriel Abbott and his tragic history. ‘That reminds me,’ she said, slowly. ‘I’m taking an interest in a case from 1994. A small plane that blew up in mid-air near Galashiels. Four people died. One of them was a former Northern Ireland minister, so the responsibility was laid at the door of the Republican movement even though nobody claimed it.’
‘I vaguely remember that.’ Sunny frowned. ‘I was in Durham doing my PhD at the time. One of our senior lecturers did some work on it, I think, if it’s the same one.’
‘What struck me as odd was that neither the IRA or one of the splinter groups put their hands up. They were pretty active on the bombing front in the mid 90s – Warrington, Manchester, Docklands – and they weren’t exactly shy about coming forward and taking the credit when they did it.’
Sunny nodded. ‘I know what you mean. Sometimes you’d have a veritable forest of hands waving, going, “me, me”, like a bunch of greedy five-year-olds. To have such a deafening silence would have been odd. But nobody really questioned it at the time, did they?’
‘I don’t know. I was just curious.’
‘So have they reopened it, then?’
Karen stared at her hand stirring her coffee. ‘No, it’s only me seeing shadows in the back of the cave. One of the women who died in the crash, her son was murdered a few days ago. Or maybe he wasn’t. Maybe it was suicide. And it made me wonder, because murder doesn’t generally run in families.’
Sunny snorted sourly. ‘Unless you live in Syria,’ she said. ‘Or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Or any one of a dozen places where life is cheap as chips and my anthropologist colleagues get sent to excavate mass graves.’ She held up a hand to stave Karen off. ‘But, yes, I know what you mean. So, your workload isn’t enough for you? You have to go round inventing cases now?’
Karen pushed her hair back from her face in a gesture of impatience. ‘I don’t sleep much these days, Sunny. I need something to keep my head busy. I’m not arrogant enough to think I’m going to find a different answer to a case like this, but anomalies are my bread and butter, and
Sunny patted Karen’s hand, sighing. ‘Sure. I’m not judging you, honey. You’re the one with the skills and the track record in this area. So, were you thinking I could ask a few questions and find you some food for thought?’
‘To be honest, I hadn’t got that far. It was just ticking away in the back of my mind. I probably wouldn’t have done anything about it if I hadn’t run into you today. Serendipity, the gift every cold case detective longs for.’
Sunny chewed on a mouthful of brownie and gave Karen a considering look. ‘OK,’ she said. ‘But there’s a price.’
‘Of course there is. Can I afford it?’
‘I want you to come up to Dundee and talk to my final-year undergraduates about police work. In spite of our best efforts, they still think you guys operate like TV cops. One grumpy inspector and a sergeant like a sheep solving all the crimes two-handed.’
‘You mean, a bit like me and the Mint and the HCU?’ Karen couldn’t keep the wry out of her tone.
Sunny hooted with laughter. ‘Right enough, youse are the dynamic duo. But I was thinking more about you talking them through major incident procedure and how their work interlocks with the investigation. What do you say?’
‘It’s a deal. I’ll not bring the Mint, though. We don’t want them running for the hills too early.’
Out of Bounds by Val McDermid / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes