Out of bounds, p.19
Out of Bounds, p.19Val McDermid
Jeremy shook his head in exasperation. ‘You really shouldn’t, Felicity. You have no evidence for such a thing.’
‘I have the evidence of my own eyes, Jeremy. You saw it too. In profile, they’re almost identical. It’s not quite so obvious head-on – Gabriel’s face is broader than Frank’s, but you can still see a powerful resemblance. And of course, their colouring is quite different. Gabriel with his dark hair and beautiful brown eyes and Frank with his sandy hair and blue eyes.’
‘But how? I mean, why? It flies in the face of all Lord Sinclair’s public pronouncements,’ Karen blurted out.
‘I imagine Ellie threw herself on the altar of their friendship,’ Felicity said. ‘Asked a favour for her friend.’
‘They probably flattered him into it,’ Jeremy said more sourly. ‘He has an ego the size of a small planet. I can see Caroline and Ellie telling him that they couldn’t imagine anyone with a better set of genes.’
‘And from their point of view, he was the perfect choice. They wanted absolute discretion and they could guarantee that from Frank. Given his views and his position – I think at the time they were doing this, he’d just taken on his first editorship – he could never have even hinted at the truth. It would have destroyed him.’
‘I can see that,’ Karen conceded. ‘But I’m struggling to get my head round why he’d do it in the first place.’
Felicity gave an elegant shrug. ‘Men love to think of their bloodline continuing after they’re gone. Frank only has daughters – perhaps he was gambling on a son?’
‘And apparently he got one,’ Jeremy said. ‘Even if it was one he could never acknowledge.’
‘If we’re right, surely it would be easy enough to do a DNA comparison?’ Felicity asked.
‘Easy to do, hard to justify,’ Karen said. ‘I can’t exactly rock up to his front door and demand a buccal swab.’
‘Oh, that sounds so marvellously technical. “A buccal swab”. Can’t you acquire it by stealth? They’re always doing that on TV. Retrieving coffee cartons from bins, stealing glasses from bars, that sort of thing.’
Bloody writers, Karen thought. Too lazy to figure out the legal way of doing things so they make it up as they go along. ‘It’s hard to stand that up in court. Judges take a pretty dim view of that kind of cavalier behaviour. Especially in Scotland, where everything has to be corroborated. But did Caroline not leave any letters behind? “In the event of my death . . . ”, that sort of thing?’
Felicity and Jeremy looked at each other blankly. ‘Not that I ever heard,’ Felicity said. ‘She certainly didn’t leave anything for me, and I doubt there was anyone closer to her than I was.’
‘What about diaries? Personal papers?’
Again they exchanged glances. ‘There’s nothing left,’ Felicity said. ‘After the crash, Ellie’s sister Maddie turned up. She was living in Italy but she got the first flight back. Will was living at home at the time, he was about to start his chemistry course at Imperial. Gabriel was still at boarding school in Scotland and they thought it was best to leave him there rather than disrupt him. He loved that school, didn’t he, Jeremy? And they were very good to him. He spent most of the holidays there, because obviously Will didn’t have the right sort of set-up to take care of a small boy, and Maddie was back in Italy. Living the life of Riley and turning out the occasional cookery book.’ Felicity made it sound as if Maddie’s books were only one step away from pornography.
‘I’m sorry, but what has that to do with Caroline’s diaries?’
Felicity smoothed her hair back from her forehead. ‘I’m sorry. I’m not being awfully clear. Maddie burned everything. All their personal papers. If there were diaries, them too. The lot went up in flames.’
Karen’s heart sank at the disappearance of another potential piece of the jigsaw. ‘But why? What possessed her?’
‘Anything to avoid bringing shame and embarrassment on the family.’ Felicity pursed her lips.
‘But did she have the right to do that? Ellie’s papers, perhaps, but Caroline’s too?’
‘Not as such,’ Felicity said, her voice grim. ‘Caroline and Ellie had wills in favour of each other, and they didn’t have one of those clauses that says one has to survive the other by thirty days before the inheritance kicks in. Because Ellie was a few months older than Caroline, she was deemed to have died first. So everything she possessed passed to Caroline. And Caroline had left everything to Will.’ Felicity sighed and shook her head. ‘I don’t know what Caroline was thinking. Perhaps she drew up the will before Gabriel was born, I don’t know. Or perhaps she assumed that, while Gabriel was still so young, Will would take care of him. So technically all their papers belonged to Will. But Maddie impressed upon him the need to maintain the secrecy his mother had imposed while she was alive and said the only way to make sure they protected her reputation was to burn everything that might contain a clue to the truth.’
‘And so she had a bonfire in the back garden,’ Jeremy said. ‘Within days of the crash. Letters, cards, diaries, everything. Even photographs. Will and Gabriel were left with almost nothing of their mother.’
‘We had copies made of all the photographs we had that included Ellie and Caroline and the boys,’ Felicity said. ‘We gave them to Will and Gabriel a couple of years after the crash, once the immediate trauma was past. They were both pathetically grateful, weren’t they, darling?’ She reached for Jeremy’s hand and squeezed it.
‘The least we could do, in the circumstances,’ he said stiffly. ‘Bloody awful thing to do. Bloody awful woman, Maddie.’
Doors were closing all around Karen. Really, she should take heed and walk away from so unpromising a case. If indeed there was a case, she reminded herself. ‘That’s terrible. But if I could turn back to the crash itself. As I said earlier, the received wisdom has always been that it was a terrorist bomb—’
Felicity interrupted her. ‘But what you are saying is that if Gabriel’s death turns out not to have been suicide and he’d been talking about a conspiracy, it might have been something very different?’ There were two patches of colour on her cheeks. It was hard to tell whether she was excited or indignant.
‘Don’t put the poor woman on the spot,’ Jeremy said.
‘No, it’s fine,’ Karen said. ‘But you must understand that this is all speculative at this point. I wonder, can you think of anyone who bore any kind of grudge against Ellie or Caroline?’
The couple looked at each other blankly. ‘Not the kind of grudge that leads to murder,’ Felicity said, with much the same intonation as Lady Bracknell said, ‘a handbag’. ‘In our business, taking umbrage is an Olympic sport. Actors are always outraged at being passed over for a role or being upstaged by some up-and-coming ingénue. We bitch and moan for England. But it never comes to blows, far less murder. Caroline never spoke of anyone having genuine enmity towards her.’ She laughed, a light tinkle. ‘The very idea is absurd.’
‘Truly, Chief Inspector, people in Felicity’s world don’t behave in a murderous way. Except on screen. It simply wouldn’t occur to them. I’m not saying there aren’t simmering resentments in the theatre, but that’s where they stay.’ Jeremy leaned forward to emphasise his earnestness.
Much as she disliked taking anything a witness said at face value, Karen was pretty sure Jeremy and Felicity were right in their judgement. Outside fiction, people didn’t commit murder over a West End role or a TV job. They certainly didn’t blow up three innocent people alongside the object of their loathing. Even in the theatre, anybody that fucked-up would have drawn attention to themselves. It looked like she’d reached the end of the road on this line of inquiry. ‘Thank you for your frankness,’ she said. ‘Unless there’s anything else you want to tell me, I think I’ve covered what I needed to ask you.’
‘It’s been fascinating. Of late, my life has become quite remarkably dull, inevitably. You’ve b
Karen stood up. What did you say to a dying stranger? ‘I appreciate your time. I hope things are not too difficult for you.’
This time, Felicity looked away as she gave a faint smile. ‘Too kind,’ she said. ‘I do hope you finally get some answers. Even if it only confirms what everyone thought all along.’
Walking back up the hill, Karen tried to push away the voice in her head telling her she was chasing shadows. That she was inventing things to occupy her mind. From Syrian refugees to baseless murder conspiracies, she was filling her head and her hours with stuff that wasn’t real. She wasn’t going to sort out the refugee crisis or an unsolved bombing that everybody but her thought was easily explicable. She needed to get a grip instead of bothering a dying woman with her pointless questioning.
For what had she learned, after all? Caroline Abbott and Ellie MacKinnon had been lovers. They’d wanted a child to cement their relationship. Frank Sinclair, Lord Sinclair, editor-in-chief of an influential right-of-centre media group, bastion of family values that even the Conservative party had moved on from, might possibly have donated the sperm to make that baby. It was a big maybe. Would you really take that big a risk for the girlfriend of your old school friend? But even if Felicity Frye was right, any evidence had gone up in flames twenty-two years ago. Short of stalking Frank Sinclair for a discarded coffee carton, there didn’t seem much else she could do.
And even if she did, and even if the DNA demonstrated that Frank Sinclair had fathered Gabriel Abbott, what did that prove? That Caroline, Ellie and Frank were big fat liars. It certainly went nowhere near a motive for murder.
Unless the two women had been threatening Frank Sinclair with exposing his hypocrisy.
Karen marched along Notting Hill Gate towards Kensington Gardens mulling that thought over in her head. It was far-fetched, but not out of the question. It wasn’t solely about reputation. If Caroline had identified Frank Sinclair as the secret father of her son – and presumably a collaborator in the pretence that her dead husband was still alive – he’d have been publicly destroyed. His new editor’s chair would have been snatched out from under him. His own much-vaunted happy marriage might not have survived.
In Karen’s world, that was motive enough for murder.
The sun had emerged from the clouds as Karen walked through Kensington Gardens but she didn’t notice. She was lost in abstraction, leaping from problem to problem as she tried to find a way to make progress in any of her current concerns. Her mother had an expression – ‘My head’s full of wee motors.’ And that just about covered the way her mind was running away with itself. But the very act of walking seemed to help straighten things out and as she crossed into Hyde Park, her mind snagged on something from deep down.
‘Phil’s laptop,’ she breathed, her face lighting up. She parked herself on the first bench she came to and ran through the notion for flaws. At the time Phil had been murdered, his laptop had been sitting on his office desk. Jimmy Hutton remembered seeing it as they’d left to go out on the job that morning. And then Phil had ended up in hospital and none of their team had gone back to the office till the next day. And in that gap, some heartless opportunist had sneaked in and nicked his laptop. Could have been a cop, could have been a civilian assistant, could have been a cleaner. There was no way of knowing.
Jimmy had been raging when he told her and she hadn’t been much better. What kind of arse would lift a laptop belonging to a polis lying in intensive care from injuries he’d taken in the line of duty? It beggared belief. So much for camaraderie. There was an investigation, but everybody knew it was a formality. Finding the culprit would only have made things worse. Nobody really wanted to know which of the people they had to work with was capable of such a shit’s trick.
And then Phil had died and nobody cared about a laptop any more. But now, here, today, it had assumed a new significance. Karen took out her phone and called the digital forensics department for the second time that weekend. ‘Digital forensics here,’ Tamsin answered.
‘Tamsin? It’s Karen Pirie.’
‘You need me to look up the phone book again?’
‘That’s right, keep talking yourself out of a job.’
Tamsin chuckled. ‘Fair enough. What can I do for you?’
‘A wee question. If somebody stole a laptop that I had guest user privileges on, is it at all feasible that they could use my account to get into whatever I have access to?’
‘Only if you were too stupid to password-protect things. And you’re not stupid.’
Karen’s turn to chuckle. ‘No, I’m not. But say my account was running in the background and I hadn’t logged out before the other user logged in?’
Tamsin thought for a moment. ‘It might be possible. Do you need it to be possible?’
‘I’d very much like it to be possible.’
‘There might be a way,’ she said, thought processes slowing her voice. ‘Do you want me to figure it out for you?’
‘Thanks, but knowing it’s feasible is all I need.’
‘And I don’t need to know why, do I?’
‘Consider it your good deed for the day, Tamsin.’
‘I haven’t done one of those since I was a Girl Guide. That it?’
‘It is. Thanks.’
‘No worries, you’re welcome.’
And that was that, sorted. One less thing to rattle round her head. She stared across the park, looking but not seeing families walking, children playing, couples leaning into each other, a scratch game of football with jackets for goalposts. Instead, she was imagining the space peopled with the Syrians from the brazier with their families. Somewhere simply to be.
Karen ran through the conversation she’d had with Giorsal a couple of nights before. Talking to a politician about the plight of the Syrians was a good suggestion but she reckoned it would have to be someone who already knew her. Otherwise she might be dismissed as another do-gooder who didn’t understand how the world worked. She didn’t want to waste her time on someone who wouldn’t take her seriously.
That narrowed it down uncomfortably. She’d done her best to avoid encounters with politicians on the general principle that there were enough obstacles in the way of getting the job done. But every now and again, it had been inevitable. To be honest, it hadn’t always gone well. But then, nobody who had ever spent any significant time in Karen’s company would ever have contemplated a career in the diplomatic service for her. And if she ever felt her commitment to thrawn slipping, she reminded herself that being accommodating would only earn her promotion to ranks whose bureaucracy made her quail.
Starting at the bottom; she didn’t know any Edinburgh City councillors; she didn’t know any Edinburgh MSPs; but she had encountered one of the current Edinburgh MPs when he’d still been a Scottish National Party candidate with the steadfast belief that he’d never be elected in what had been, until 2014, a safe Labour seat. Craig Grassie had been an NHS administrator, lodged securely in the ranks of middle management. His wife had been a minor witness in a fifteen-year-old rape and attempted murder that Karen had finally resolved a few years before. She’d warmed to the Grassies, found them direct and uncomplicated, which wasn’t what she’d expected from a man who wanted to become an MP.
Although, to be fair, he hadn’t expected to be on the receiving end of a 30 per cent swing to the SNP. ‘I’ll never get in,’ he’d confided to Karen. ‘The party just want to put candidates up in every seat, that’s the game. I’m window dressing.’ But the voters had liked what they saw – or more likely, they’d liked the way Nicola Sturgeon put Westminster on the back foot – and Craig had been elected Member of Parliament for Edinburgh Central. Karen hadn’t seen him since, but she was pretty sure he’d take her call. Even on a Sunday afternoon.
She never erased a number from her phone. Shirle
‘Mrs Grassie? This is DCI Karen Pirie. From the—’
‘Yes, yes, I remember you, Chief Inspector. Hello there. How are you?’ Cheery, direct. Would that everyone was like that, Karen thought, yearning.
‘I’m fine, thanks. I’m sorry to bother you, but I wanted to get in touch with your husband and this is the only number I’ve got for either of you.’ Apologetic never hurt.
‘No bother, really. He’s just in the other room, let me get him for you.’
Karen could hear footsteps on tiles, then a muffled shout of, ‘Craig, it’s that lovely detective from the cold case team, Karen Pirie.’ A low mumble. ‘I don’t know, it’s you she’s after.’ Rustling and fumbling.
Then Craig Grassie’s voice. ‘Detective,’ he said. ‘This is a nice surprise. At least, I hope it is.’ Rueful twist to his voice.
‘It’s not official business,’ she said. ‘But I wondered if you could spare me half an hour when you’re up in Edinburgh?’
‘I’m not going to be back now till Friday, I’m afraid. We’re down in London this weekend.’
Karen almost punched the air. ‘Actually, I’m in London myself. I don’t suppose . . . ’
A moment. Then Grassie said, ‘Do you like coffee?’
‘OK. We’ll be in the TAP coffee shop on Wardour Street about half past two. It’s a bit of a Sunday ritual for us. Does that work for you?’
Karen glanced at her watch. Plenty time to walk it. ‘I’ll be there.’
‘Do you want to tell me what it’s about?’
She gave a dry laugh. ‘I think I’d better wait. I don’t want you sneaking off to Costa instead.’
Jeremy Frye was in his den at the top of the house, gazing out of the small window through the trees to the mirror-image buildings on the other side of the enclosed gardens. Between his eyebrows, a pair of parallel frown lines. Felicity was asleep, worn out by her morning performance for the detective. She’d put on a magnificent show but he’d known as he watched her that she’d be wrung out for the rest of the day.
Out of Bounds by Val McDermid / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes