Out of bounds, p.25
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       Out of Bounds, p.25

           Val McDermid
 

  Back at the office, energised enough not to need a coffee, Karen sent a quick text to Giorsal. Just because Tina’s murder had swept back to centre stage didn’t mean she was going to ignore the other matter that was gnawing away at the back of her mind like a rat with a chicken carcass.

  Hi Gus. Never mind Noble. Whatever he says, GA’s death ties to a cold case and cold cases are mine. Can you put me together with Ian Lesley this evening? I’ll buy the pizza! Kx

  She smiled. Cat firmly inserted among pigeons.

  Jason was already at his computer screen, head bowed, fingers clumsy on the keys, a pair of frown lines between his eyebrows. Karen made a start on her own tasks. The first thing she did was log on to the unit’s account on the Scotland’s People website. She typed in Jeanette MacBride’s name, added a twenty-year window of possibility in the date range and chose five registration districts to start the search. She began with the ones nearest the address they already had for MacBride. There were nearly nine hundred registration districts in Scotland and if need be she’d work her way through every one till she found what she was looking for.

  But the gods were smiling on her. Jeanette MacBride had been born on 27 June 1979 in Edinburgh. Her mother, Maria MacBride, unemployed and only nineteen, had been living in a flat in Portobello at the time. And as with her son, Jeanette MacBride had no father’s name listed on her birth certificate. Had that been why she’d given up her child for adoption, Karen wondered. Had her own experience of being raised by a single parent made her decide she didn’t want those social and economic difficulties visited on her own child? She wondered whether Maria MacBride was still in Edinburgh. She’d only be fifty-six now. If all else failed, she might know where her daughter was. ‘Jeanette was from Edinburgh,’ Karen said. Jason looked up, startled.

  ‘What?’

  ‘She’ll be thirty-seven now. I’m pinging the birth certificate over to you.’

  Back to her task. Google first. The dead ninety-four-year-old from Schenectady definitely wasn’t their woman. Nor was the Filipino-Australian actress, who spelled her first name differently anyway.

  She moved on to Facebook and worked her way through a trio of hits, dismissing them all on the grounds of geography and age. Twitter and Instagram offered no more likely options. Either Jeanette MacBride had no interest in social media or she had married and changed her name. Or she’d fallen off the grid for any one of several reasons. She could be in jail. She could have mental health issues. She could be too poor to support a digital existence.

  She could be dead.

  Karen thrust that annoying thought away and searched the marriage records on Scotland’s People. No joy there. She tried Jeanette’s mother, Maria, and eventually found a marriage certificate. In 1998, she’d married a builder’s labourer called James Robertson. ‘Oh, great,’ Karen muttered. ‘Let’s hope we don’t need to fall back on Jeanette’s mother.’

  ‘How?’

  ‘She married a guy called James Robertson. Could she have picked two more common names? And he was a builder’s labourer. The most casual employment known to man.’ She sighed. ‘You having any better luck?’

  Jason grunted. ‘I’m back to 2007 and she’s not there yet. Just waiting for 2006 to load.’ Silence fell again, broken only by the whisper and thump of two very different keyboard styles. But not for long. A couple of minutes later, Jason whooped. ‘Got her. She was still living at the Wester Hailes address in 2006.’ He jabbed a finger at the screen.

  ‘Brilliant. Neighbours, yes?’

  ‘I’m already on it.’ Jason was scribbling in his notebook, listing the names of residents who lived close to Jeanette in 2006. Then laboriously he began to work his way forward through the records he’d already examined to see if any of them was still at the same address. He sucked his lower lip as he concentrated, a wet and faintly disgusting sound. Meanwhile, Karen waged a fruitless search through more marriage records to see whether she could track down Jeanette as a bride.

  At last Jason pushed back in his chair and stood up. ‘I done it,’ he said. ‘I deserve an Irn Bru. I’m away to the machine to get one. Do you want anything?’

  ‘No. What have you got?’ Karen spread her palms in a gesture of frustration. When would the Mint learn to prioritise?

  ‘Two hits,’ he said on his way out the door.

  Karen bustled round to his desk and looked at his notebook. A list of ten names, all scribbled out except two. Agnes McCredie and Thomas Anderson. She checked the names against the screen. Agnes was at 7/45 and Thomas at 7/40. ‘Looking good,’ she said under her breath. They were on the same floor, close to Jeanette MacBride’s flat. By the time Jason returned with his can to his lips, she already had her coat on. ‘Come on, Jason, time for a wee run out to Wester Hailes.’

  By some miracle, the lift was working. But as the door closed on the grim smells of stale urine, vomit and something unidentifiable but definitely decaying, Karen almost jammed her finger on the button so she could opt for the stairs before it was too late. But just in time, she remembered what the stairs would probably be like. Used condoms, needles, cat shit in corners, dog shit on landings and screwed-up papers drifting in the wind. No matter how hard the council – and a despairing tranche of the residents – tried to make the blocks of high flats a decent place to live, they were always fighting a losing battle.

  The ridged metal walls of the lift showed faint ghosts of graffiti that council workers hadn’t quite managed to erase completely, and Karen thought she recognised a couple of gang tags. The schemies of Wester Hailes seemed to change not at all from short generation to generation. Cheap booze, cheap fags and, most insidiously, cheap drugs had cheapened life to the point where escape seemed too improbable to contemplate. For these people, the escalator that had once offered a chance to rise above the poverty of their existence was permanently broken.

  The seventh floor wasn’t as bad as some Karen had seen. The blue doors were faded and dusty, but most of the paint was intact. A gallery ran round the four sides of the block and none of the windows facing on to it was boarded up. Some of them even had net curtains that were still approximately white. Agnes McCredie’s flat was one of those. Karen knocked on the door and turned to face the kitchen window where, as she expected, a corner of the net shifted and she caught the pale half-moon of a face. She smiled; winningly, she hoped.

  Time passed then the door cracked open a couple of inches, held in place by a brassy chain that Karen could have snapped with one lunge of her shoulder. But at least Agnes McCredie was showing unwilling, which was often all the deterrence it took. The eye that looked into Karen’s was rheumy and faded, but queasily magnified by her glasses. ‘Who are you?’ she demanded, her voice reedy but strong.

  Karen and Jason produced their ID. ‘We’re from Police Scotland.’ Karen said. ‘We’re looking for anyone who knew Jeanette MacBride. She used to live in 43.’

  The woman reared back a little. ‘Jeanette? Has she done something? That doesn’t sound like her.’

  ‘No, nothing like that. We’re trying to track her down, that’s all. Can we come in for a wee chat, Mrs McCredie?’

  ‘It’s Miss McCredie. And none of that Ms rubbish either. Jeanette hasn’t lived here in ten years. Hang on.’ The door closed, the chain rattled, the door opened wider. Agnes McCredie gestured to them to enter. ‘On the right,’ she said, pointing to the door. It looked flimsy, like everything else in the hallway. The ugly grey carpet was threadbare but clean and framed pictures of the last four popes hung on the wall. A thin smell of bacon fat hung in the air.

  The living room was furnished with a three-piece suite and a coffee table that Karen reckoned dated from the seventies. A small dining table covered with a lace runner sat against the window, an upright chair on either side. A cut-glass vase with some dispiriting plastic daffodils sat defiantly in the middle. The walls featured a crucifix, a p
icture of Jesus weighing the Sacred Heart in his hand as if checking whether it was good enough to cook, and a print of St Francis of Assisi charming the birds and the animals. A small TV with a rabbit ear aerial completed the furnishings. Everything was spotless. Cleanliness being next to godliness, Karen thought, settling herself on the sofa. Jason joined her and Agnes McCredie sat in the armchair facing the TV screen. She was small and neat and somehow desiccated, but the smile she bestowed on them was sweet, transforming her narrow face. Somewhere south of seventy, Karen decided. Clearly the Swinging Sixties had passed her by. But then, in parts of Scotland the sixties hadn’t started till 1979.

  ‘Now, before I tell you anything about Jeanette, I want to know exactly why you’re here.’ She folded her hands in her lap and gave them both a direct stare.

  ‘We work in the Historic Cases Unit,’ Karen said. ‘We look at what people generally call cold cases. We believe Jeanette can give us some information that would be useful to us in a case we’re working on.’

  Agnes raised her eyebrows. ‘Well, Officer, that tells me absolutely nothing. I’d like some proper information.’

  Karen couldn’t really blame the old woman’s nosiness. She’d have been the same. ‘Jeanette had a baby while she was living here. Did you know about that?’

  ‘Of course I did. I persuaded her not to have an abortion.’ She sat up straighter. ‘That boyfriend of hers was off like a scalded cat when he found out she was expecting. She was all for getting rid of the wee mite, but I helped her see its life was as sacred as hers. So she decided to have the bairn and have it adopted. But why are you asking about that now?’

  Sometimes, honesty was the only policy worth a damn. This woman wasn’t going to be fobbed off. Karen was going to have to give a little on the off-chance of getting a lot. ‘Jeanette’s son was involved in a car accident recently and his DNA was taken. And we learned something important from that. We discovered that one of his male relatives was involved in a serious crime twenty years ago. We need to find his father. And the only way we can think of to do that is through Jeanette.’ She spread her hands in a gesture of appeal. ‘We didn’t have much to go on, but we figured out you might be able to help.’

  Agnes took a rosary out of the pocket of her apron and absently began working it with her bony fingers. ‘Jeanette moved away in 2006. She’d met a lovely man through her work. She worked at Jumping Junipers up the road at Juniper Green and Kevin was the postie. Kevin proposed but he was from Ireland and he wanted to move back there. There was nothing to keep Jeanette – her mum had died the year before.’ Agnes pursed her mouth and lowered her voice. ‘Breast cancer. And her so young.’

  ‘So they got married and moved to Ireland?’

  Agnes shook her head. ‘No, they moved to Ireland and then they got married. Jeanette sent me a photo.’

  ‘Have you still got it?’

  Agnes shook her head. ‘I kept it for a few years. We exchanged Christmas cards for a wee while but that petered out. I doubt I’ve heard from her in five years.’

  ‘And do you remember Kevin’s surname?’ Jason chipped in, notebook at the ready, obviously reckoning there was nothing controversial in the question.

  ‘O’Toole.’ She gave a little simper. ‘Like Peter O’Toole. Lawrence of Arabia, you know?’

  ‘Do you still have an address for Jeanette and Kevin?’ Karen asked.

  Agnes nodded. ‘Give me a minute.’ She left the room and returned in a moment, clutching a battered book with a gingham checked cloth cover. ‘My address book,’ she said, thumbing through the index. ‘Here we go.’ She recited an address in Dublin and Jason dutifully wrote it down.

  ‘Did you know Jeanette’s boyfriend?’ Karen continued. ‘The one who got her pregnant?’

  ‘I wouldn’t say “knew”. But I did meet him a couple of times, waiting for the lift with Jeanette. A handsome devil. Dark hair, dark eyes and good broad shoulders. She’d told me about him. How they were in love and he was the one, but I always say, you don’t know if he’s the one till you’re walking back down the aisle. I disapproved of her giving herself to him, but you can’t tell young people anything.’ She sighed. ‘And this was one time when I got no pleasure out of being right.’

  ‘No, I can see that,’ Karen said. Somehow, she thought that in spite of the obvious religiosity of Agnes McCredie, the older woman hadn’t judged her neighbour harshly.

  ‘And then she fell pregnant.’ Agnes shook her head, sadness rather than self-righteousness in her voice. ‘She didn’t tell him to begin with. She was worried he’d think she was trying to trap him. She was going to have an abortion and carry on as if nothing had happened. But I could see she was uncertain, and in the end, she decided to keep it. And then, of course, she had to tell him.’

  ‘What happened then?’

  ‘He was in the army, did I mention that? He was stationed at Catterick and he used to come up to see Jeanette whenever he could get leave. Most weekends, he was here. She told him on the Saturday afternoon and instead of staying the night, he got on his motorbike and went straight back to camp. That was the last she saw of him. He wouldn’t speak to her on the phone and he never answered her letters. I thought her heart would break. And then she heard he’d been posted abroad. And that was that. She had the baby, she handed him over for adoption and two weeks later she was back at her work. She was never quite the same after that. She was still a lovely lassie. A good neighbour and good company. She always had time for an old woman like me, even though she wasn’t a Catholic herself. But after she gave up the baby, there was always a wee air of sadness about her. Even after she took up with Kevin, it was always there.’

  Now for the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. ‘I don’t suppose you remember his name? The boyfriend?’

  Agnes bridled, offended. ‘Of course I do. I may be knocking at the door of eighty but I’ve still got all the marbles God blessed me with. I do my Sudoku and the crossword every day, to keep my mind active. His name was Darren Foreman. Sergeant Darren Foreman of the Royal Highland Regiment. That’s the Black Watch to you and me, son,’ she added with a twinkle at Jason. ‘I remember it well because I wrote the details down in Jeanette’s family Bible. She wasn’t very devout and I knew she wouldn’t get round to it herself so I did it for her.’

  ‘And you’re sure he was the father?’ Karen broke the moment.

  Agnes straightened up in her chair. ‘Jeanette was no good-time girl, Officer. Darren was her first serious boyfriend. She told me she’d grown up in a single-parent household and she was determined not to go down the same road as her mother.’ She sighed. ‘And of course, that’s what happened, only a wee bit different. She was a decent lassie at heart. But Sergeant Darren Foreman, he was her Achilles’ heel.’

  42

  Agnes McCredie closed her front door behind them, the chain rattling as she replaced it. ‘Result, boss, eh?’ Jason exulted, stepping out towards the lift.

  ‘Hang on, Jason, where are you going? We’ve got another potential witness here.’

  He turned, his expression the all-too-familiar one of bafflement. ‘But we’ve got everything we need. Miss McCredie gave us chapter and verse. Now we just have to track down Sergeant Darren Foreman. One phone call to army records and we’re cooking with gas.’

  ‘Not so fast. Agnes McCredie is obviously a fully paid up member of the Jeanette MacBride fan club. And as we know, because we are nasty-minded, devious police officers, the version of the world people give us is never the whole truth. That’s why, when we have the option of two sources, we take it, Jason.’

  Comprehension dawned. ‘What? You think there might be more to Jeanette MacBride than Miss McCredie was letting on?’

  ‘No idea. But we’re not going to find out if we don’t try. And besides, I never trust anybody that doesn’t offer me a brew.’ Karen carried on along the gallery to Thomas Anderson’s front door. H
is windows were covered with, at a guess, thin cotton bed sheets that had once been white but were now a streaky grey. She knocked, three firm raps.

  A long pause, then the sound of shuffling feet. The door swung back to reveal a man who could have been any age between forty and seventy. His face was creased and yellow, patches of missed stubble dotted his slack jowls and throat, and his greasy gunmetal grey hair looked like he’d cut it himself without a mirror. Skinny white arms stuck out of a faded black polo shirt and a pair of cheap joggers flapped round stick-thin legs. He had the hard pot belly of a beer drinker. He resembled an olive pierced by cocktail sticks. Except that he smelled of cigarettes and stale biscuits. ‘What d’you want?’ he demanded, glaring at Karen, then peering round her to visit the same glower on Jason.

  ‘Thomas Anderson?’

  The scowl deepened, scoring his face more deeply. ‘Who wants to know?’

  ‘I’m Detective Chief Inspector Pirie of Police Scotland. And he’s Detective Constable Murray. We’d like a word about one of your former neighbours.’

  ‘Oh aye? And who would that be?’ His mouth set in a stubborn line and he thrust his jaw forward.

  ‘Jeanette MacBride.’

  Anderson visibly relaxed. ‘She used to live at forty-three.’

  ‘That’s the one. Mind if we come in?’

  ‘Aye, I do. I’ve not been round with the Hoover lately.’

  ‘Have you got something to hide, Mr Anderson?’ Karen asked sweetly. ‘Should I be talking to the local bobbies about popping round with a search warrant? Look, I don’t care if you’ve got smuggled fags or dodgy vodka in your crib. I want one thing, and one thing only. And that’s a wee chat about Jeanette MacBride.’

 
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