Out of bounds, p.30
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       Out of Bounds, p.30

           Val McDermid
 

  ‘What? You had an accident in the car?’

  ‘I had an accident, but I wasn’t in the car. Somebody tried to run me over. If it hadn’t been for a patrol car coming along in the nick of time, they’d probably have managed it.’

  ‘Jesus, Karen, that’s terrible. Who the hell was it? Do you know?’

  ‘I’ve no idea. The main suspect in the cold case I’m working officially is probably dead, so I don’t think it’s him. If I’ve stirred things up in the Gabriel Abbott case, I don’t have a clear enough idea of where I’m going with it to know who might be trying to stop me.’

  River gave a shaky laugh. ‘You’d better get a move on before they succeed, girl. Did they catch them?’

  ‘No. By the time the night patrol boys realised what had happened, they were long gone.’

  ‘Where was this?’

  ‘Near Kinross. Loch Leven side.’

  ‘Could they not have checked the ANPR cameras?

  Karen shrugged. ‘No point. He could have gone six different roads within five minutes of where it happened.’

  ‘Oh, come on, Karen. Stop being so bloody heroic. Kinross late at night isn’t the bloody North Circular. Even that close to Perthshire, there can’t be many SUVs hurtling around late at night. Get on to it. Talk to the guys at Traffic. Whoever tried this might try again.’ River’s voice rose in anger. ‘I don’t want to be going to another bloody funeral.’

  Karen looked shocked. ‘I’ll be careful,’ she protested.

  ‘Phil was careful.’ River spoke quietly and clearly.

  ‘I know,’ Karen said. ‘Every time I woke up in the night, I relived the moment when that SUV was heading for me and I was thinking, this is what Phil felt before he didn’t feel anything ever again. And that’s why I’ll be careful.’

  ‘Careful isn’t enough. You need to get Traffic on to this. Promise me you’ll do it.’

  Karen looked away. ‘I will. OK? I will.’

  ‘So did they actually hit you? Because you look very pale and you’re holding yourself awkwardly.’

  ‘The wing mirror caught my shoulder, that’s all. Look, it’s only bruised. Nothing’s broken. And I have cases to work. Cases the Mint can’t manage on his own. Cases like this one. I need you to run me through this, to make sure I’m understanding it. What you sent me is clear, but I need to be certain I’m on solid ground before I start acting on it.’ She drank from a tumbler of clear liquid with bubbles studding the glass.

  ‘Good painkiller, gin,’ River said drily. ‘Just don’t use too much of it.’

  ‘What, not unless you or Jimmy Hutton is around to share it?’ Karen chuckled. ‘So, take me through your results.’

  ‘As you know, I did the comparisons blind. I don’t know who any of these people are. C is the mother of A. The father isn’t present in this group of profiles.’

  ‘That’s Carolyn Abbott, Will Abbott’s mother. The father was presumably her husband Tom but he’s been dead since the mid 1980s and there’s no prospect of getting his DNA now. But B definitely isn’t her son?’

  ‘That’s right. B – is that Gabriel Abbott, then?’

  ‘Yes. And D is Ellie MacKinnon, Caroline Abbott’s bidie-in. And they’re definitely mother and son?’

  ‘That’s right. And Frank the dog is his father.’

  ‘So two boys who have grown up thinking they were full brothers are completely unrelated?’

  ‘That’s what the science says. But of course, biology isn’t the determinant of family relationships that it once was.’

  ‘No, but when it comes to matters of inheritance, blood is still thicker than just about anything else.’

  ‘You look pensive.’

  ‘I’m going to have to go away and think about what this means and how it comes together,’ Karen said slowly.

  ‘If you need to talk it over, I’ll be here. I’ll maybe stop off on my way south tomorrow night, if you like? Take a look at your shoulder?’

  Karen nodded. ‘At this point, there’s no reason why not. I can buy you dinner, say thanks for sorting this out for me.’

  ‘Works for me. We’ll talk tomorrow. And Karen?’

  ‘Yes, I know,’ she sighed. ‘Talk to Traffic.’

  River broke the connection and tried to refocus on the PhD. But she couldn’t help fretting about her friend. Karen had always been a law unto herself. But River had hoped that if Phil’s death had taught her one thing, it was that she wasn’t invulnerable. Right now, it didn’t look as if that lesson had taken very well.

  Normally, Karen would have ventured back out into the night to walk through what she knew and what she surmised in the light of that information. But her whole body felt bruised and shaken. Even walking around the flat was uncomfort­able. Instead, she ran a hot bath, topped up her glass with the appropriately named Bathtub Gin, put her Blue Nile playlist on shuffle and settled down to try to make sense of what had happened twenty-two years ago and whether it had any connection other than familial with Gabriel Abbott’s death.

  Twenty-two years ago, four people had been murdered. Everyone had jumped to the obvious conclusion – that it had been orchestrated by Irish terrorists. There were good reasons for that assumption. Richard Spencer had been a Northern Ireland minister, hated by Republican sympathisers on principle. The IRA had been active around that time, with some very high-profile bombings. It was a convenient place to lay blame when there were no other obvious suspects.

  But there were arguments that ran counter to that reasoning. First, the failure of any group to claim responsibility. Terrorists generally liked to shout their triumphs from the rooftops. It was part of the way in which they spread terror. It was also how they bolstered their own feelings of power.

  Secondly, in spite of the best efforts of Special Branch and the anti-terrorism unit, there was no evidence of the security at the aerodrome having been breached. Admittedly, it was hardly the tightest of cordons, but because it was a relatively small airfield, strangers who had no business to be there were easy to spot. It wasn’t impossible that a terrorist had managed to get on to the airfield and into the hangar where Richard Spencer’s plane was housed, but according to the files she’d already skimmed that afternoon, the general feeling was that it would have posed problems. But of course, someone had planted an incendiary device on the plane, so the security must have been breached somehow.

  Thirdly, there was the device itself. According to Sunny O’Brien, it was what was generally called an IED – an Improvised Explosive Device – rather than one of the much more sophisticated bombs the well-funded IRA of that period had come to prefer. It wasn’t a complex device, and it had none of the hallmarks of known Republican bomb makers.

  ‘So let’s assume it wasn’t an Irish bomb aimed at a former minister,’ Karen said aloud. ‘Let’s twist the kaleidoscope and see what the picture looks like if we take Richard Spencer out of the equation. What possible motive could anyone have for killing Caroline Abbott or Ellie MacKinnon? Two successful women, but not doing the kind of jobs that you can imagine providing much of a motive for murder.’ It was only in a certain kind of traditional detective novel where actors murdered producers who passed them over for lead roles, or bumped off presenters whom they perceived to stand in the way of their greater glory.

  When Felicity Frye had told her that Gabriel’s father had been Frank Sinclair, that perpetual preachy occupant of the moral high ground, Karen had felt the stirrings of an idea. When he’d agreed to be the sperm donor for the child the two women wanted to cement their relationship, he’d been a lot lower down the greasy pole. He’d had less to lose. If he’d been exposed as fathering a child outside his famously devoted marriage, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world.

  But by the time of the murders, he’d gone through a meteoric rise. He was editing a national newspaper and beginning to assume a role in
the public eye as a commentator and controversialist on radio and TV. Although his elevation to the Lords hadn’t happened until the millennium honours list, he was already being talked about as someone who could have an influential career in public life. If Caroline or Ellie had somehow threatened that, if they’d wanted to tell Gabriel the truth about his paternity, that would be a very potent motive for wanting rid of them.

  And now she’d seen a photograph that proved he’d been in the right place at the right time.

  It had been hard to picture Lord Sinclair skulking about an aerodrome with a bomb, but her years in the police had rendered Karen immune to surprise. The casual cruelties and deliberate destructiveness that people visited on each other no longer shocked her. She’d been leaning towards the idea of Sinclair being responsible, not least because she found his politics vile and his attitudes oppressive. But she’d also been in the job long enough to recognise the danger of letting her own prejudices run away with her. Sinclair might be loathsome but that made him no more likely to be a killer for personal reasons than someone who shared her own world view. Except that she’d never seen any trace of a ‘live and let live’ philosophy in his utterances.

  But everything had been thrown up in the air by the DNA revelations from River. Karen picked up her slippery glass carefully and took a swig of gin and tonic. Everything changed because it wasn’t Caroline who was Gabriel’s mother but Ellie. Ellie who had supposedly been off having a hysterectomy, but who was actually having a baby. Ellie who had been the devoted friend, allegedly spending the three months post-convalescence, when her show was off air during its annual break, taking care of Caroline through the end of her pregnancy. Ellie who had wanted motherhood but desperately feared losing her career working with children at a time when a hostile government was clamping down on the very idea of talking about homosexuality in schools.

  And Ellie who had conspired with Caroline to break the law. Which meant they were equally vulnerable to exposure as Frank Sinclair. They were the ones who had broken the law, not Frank Sinclair. Making a false declaration on a birth certificate was a serious matter. Karen imagined it would be at least as serious in France, where Gabriel had been born. The revelation of the truth about Gabriel’s parentage would have done terminal damage to Ellie’s career as well as Frank’s public persona. Really, her vague suspicions about Frank and Ellie had been right on the money. It had after all been Ellie who had been Frank Sinclair’s friend, not Caroline. Ellie was the one he’d have done such a colossal favour for, not her girlfriend.

  And yet, Frank Sinclair had been in the right place at the right time.

  When it came to Gabriel Abbott, a fresh set of questions popped up. Here was a man in search of his own history, a man on the edge of discovering who he really was, a man desperate to find a place in the world where he belonged. Such a man might pose a very real threat to what Frank Sinclair had become. There was every reason why the man with the ermine robes might want rid of his unacknowledged son.

  The big question was how much Frank Sinclair knew and when he knew it. Karen drained her glass and edged gingerly upright. Finding the answers to those questions wasn’t going to be easy. Especially if the Macaroon found out she was planning to ask them.

  50

  Karen wiped the bathroom mirror and checked out her bruise. The purple had turned blue in the middle but it hadn’t spread any further. She took her time getting dry then pulled on jogging pants and her thick velour dressing gown. She curled up on the sofa with another drink and scoured Netflix for something to watch. She was ten minutes into an episode of Modern Family when she realised nothing had sunk in and she had no idea what was going on.

  ‘For fuck’s sake,’ she muttered, clicking the TV off. This was when she missed Phil most of all. Something was nagging at the back of her mind and she needed first to figure out what it might be and then how to track it down. They had always bounced ideas off each other, using each other as a sounding board. They could be as outlandish as they wanted with each other, and know they were safe from mockery. And neither was shy about making suggestions on the other’s cases. The last months of his life, when Phil had been working with the Murder Prevention Squad, had been among the most intense and creative of their time together. Now she was inching out on a limb again, she felt isolated and slightly crazy.

  She knew she could talk to River. She reckoned she could probably talk to Giorsal. But neither was a polis. Neither had that visceral understanding of the job that she’d shared with Phil. She was on her own again, just as she had been before they’d got together. But now it was worse because she’d known what it was to have someone to share with.

  On an impulse, she texted Jimmy Hutton. It was after eight. If he was at home with his feet up, he wouldn’t be up for listening to her daft theories. But if he was still at work, as the MPT often were in the evenings, he might have time for her. Nothing ventured . . .

  Hey, Jimmy. You up for a blether? Something I’d like to run past you. No big deal if you’re busy.

  The answer came quickly:

  Hiya K. I’m wrapping up a bit of business in Dunfermline, I could be at yours in half an hour if that suits?

  Just enough time to get dressed and throw some pasta in a pan.

  Cheers, pal. Arrabiata or puttanesca?

  Jimmy wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and smiled. ‘That was what I needed. It’s been a long day, going nowhere slow.’ He took a drink of water. ‘So, what’s all this about, then?’

  Karen had insisted they eat before she talked through what was bothering her. She’d known Jimmy would be hungry and she didn’t want him to have half his attention on shovelling penne puttanesca into his mouth. They moved across to the comfy chairs that looked out across the Firth of Forth and she fixed them both a glass of Edinburgh Rhubarb and Ginger liqueur. ‘It’s kind of weird. It started out as none of my business, except that Alan Noble wound me up with his laziness.’

  Jimmy gave a harsh bark of laughter. ‘You’re not the first person to say the likes of that. I have no idea how he got his inspector’s pips. He gives me the pip, that’s for sure. So what did he do, or not do?’

  ‘He did that really crap thing of writing something up as a suicide without properly investigating the alternative. And he’d have probably got away with it if I hadn’t been in a bloody-minded mood.’ Karen sighed. ‘I hate that kind of thing, Jimmy. The dead have only got us to act for them, so we should do it properly, you know?’

  ‘I know. Believe me, I know. Tell me the story, Karen.’

  So she did. With more detail and subtlety than she’d given Jason. Horses for courses, after all. He listened attentively, only interrupting a couple of times, seeking more detail. When she reached the point where she’d realised Frank Sinclair might well have a motive for the murder that Alan Noble had wanted to deny, she stopped. ‘What do you think?’

  Jimmy exhaled noisily. ‘What is it with you?’ He had a smile on his face and his words were warm rather than critical. ‘Most folk would think running the HCU was enough of a plateful without going out looking for more hornets’ nests to poke sticks in.’

  ‘Don’t give me that. You’re the same. Digging every last particle of dirt on violent men to stop them abusing the women in their lives.’

  ‘Fair enough. Though I don’t know why you think you need me for this one, Karen. It’s Murder 101.’

  ‘What do you mean?’

  ‘You’ve been so busy looking at abstract reasons for murder – reputation, jobs, maybe getting nicked for telling a few lies on a birth certificate – that you’ve forgotten the first question, the concrete one. The starting point of every murder investigation.’

  Karen looked blank for a moment then slapped her forehead. ‘Cui bono.’

  ‘Exactly. Who benefited back in 1994?’

  ‘There are two obvious candidates: Frank Sinclair and Will A
bbott. For Frank Sinclair, it meant the chance to get rid of the two people who could torpedo his public persona. And maybe his marriage as well.’

  ‘But you’ve no evidence to suggest he had anything to do with it.’

  ‘Not quite no evidence.’ Karen fumbled with her phone and brought up the photograph of the newspaper clipping. ‘See who that is on the far right? Appropriately enough.’

  Jimmy frowned. ‘Looks like Sinclair. What’s the significance?’

  ‘The other four were dead by teatime. That picture was taken at the aerodrome before the others set off for Perth­shire. You have to wonder what the fuck Sinclair was doing there.’

  Jimmy gave a low whistle. ‘You do indeed. Well, well, well. That’s a very interesting photo. But’ – he held his hands up as if to ward off a blow – ‘it’s still not really a motive. You said “two obvious candidates”.’

  Karen sighed. ‘The other one is Will Abbott. That crash made him a rich young man. Both women had wills in favour of each other, but they didn’t have one of those clauses that say the survivor has to outlive them by a certain number of days. So because Ellie was a wee bit older, the law says she died first and her entire estate went to Caroline. The big surprise was that Caroline left everything to Will in the event of Ellie being dead already. Not a brass farthing to Gabriel. But it makes sense to us tonight, knowing what we know now. Caroline left Gabriel out because, in spite of what the paperwork said, he wasn’t her son. If she’d made her will in Scotland, Gabriel would have got a share because of forced heirship. But under English law he was cut loose without a penny. I’ve looked at the probate, by the way. Most of the money was Caroline’s, but Ellie left a substantial estate too because the mortgage insurance paid off her half of the house.’

  ‘So Will got Gabriel’s share as well as his own?’

  ‘Not to mention he gets pats on the back all round for supporting his little brother by paying his school fees for years and paying his rent on the cottage in Kinross. Win-win.’

 
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