Out of bounds, p.33
Out of Bounds, p.33Val McDermid
‘Only the kind of doubt that afflicts the blinkered and the partial. His family won’t like it, but you have to weigh that against the closure it will give Tina McDonald’s family.’
‘You’re right, Gary Foreman’s family won’t be happy. His mother in particular. She’ll be all over the tabloids, shouting the odds.’ It was a valid point, but Karen suspected she was using it to cover up her own desire for absolute answers. Because she had a sneaking suspicion Semple might be right about her motives.
‘No, they won’t be happy. But nothing you do at this point is going to make them happy. Besides, you can step up on to the high moral ground and say that you’re confident you have reached the correct conclusion without wasting Police Scotland’s budget or potentially invading the privacy of innocent transplant recipients.’
Karen breathed deeply. ‘But this isn’t Sudoku. It’s not about playing word-games for the media. It’s about truth and justice.’
He shifted in his chair and leaned forward, forearms on the desk, hands clasped in front of him as if in earnest prayer. ‘Karen, you know better than that. You don’t have to wrap yourself in that tattered cloak to feel proud of the job you do. I’m not pressing you for a decision now. But I think you should go away and think about what really matters here. I’ll take it on if you are determined to go ahead with it, but I would advise you to consider what’s really in the best interests of your department and the victim’s family.’
Chastened, Karen took the back way from the Royal Mile to her office, down past the graffitied hoardings and the grimy stone of the railway viaduct. Sometimes her thoughts were too ugly and uncomfortable for the drama and beauty of the Edinburgh skyline. Semple had been right. She’d been so excited at the prospect of nailing a case with a flashy new trick that she hadn’t looked at the whole picture. She was getting things all out of proportion, something Phil would never have let her get away with.
Which reminded her that she had half-promised River that they could meet between trains that evening. She leaned against a hoarding and sent a text suggesting they meet for a quick Vietnamese meal near the station. Karen could unburden herself and discuss the options with a friend, as opposed to a lawyer who couldn’t know what really mattered to her.
She arrived back at the office to find Jason with his feet on the desk, a can of Irn Bru in one hand and in the other, a doughnut leaking what looked suspiciously like blood and pus. ‘Good to see you hard at work,’ she said, sounding as sour as she felt.
‘I found the statements,’ he said, not even pretending to sit up. ‘Both of them. So I went to the shop. There’s one in the box for you. I got you the chocolate cream one.’
Sometimes, Karen thought, she didn’t deserve the people in her life. She flipped open the box and stared greedily at the sticky brown glaze dripping on to the greaseproof paper. ‘That’s a glorious sight,’ she sighed, reaching for it before she even took her coat off. She sank her teeth in, unable even to remember the last time she’d had so much sweet sugary pleasure. ‘Oh man,’ she groaned, muffled by chocolate crème pat. This, she thought, was utter self-indulgence. And maybe enough self-indulgence for one day.
‘How’d it go with the stallion?’
Karen spluttered crème pat over her desk. ‘Not fair!’ She wiped her mouth with a tissue from her drawer. ‘I think there’s something wrong with him. He thinks we don’t need the DNA to point the finger at Gary Foreman. There’s enough on the balance of probabilities, since we’re never going to have to stand up in court and prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. So he says it’s a waste of money to set him on the medics.’
Jason hoicked his feet off the desk and sat up straight. ‘What? Is this the invasion of the bodysnatchers? A lawyer turning down money?’
‘Apparently. I’ve to go away and think about it. But never mind that. I’ll think on my own time. What did you find?’
He handed her a couple of sheets of paper stapled together, holding another close to his chest. ‘This is the statement from Christopher Barnes.’
It began with the usual official introduction. Place, date, time, full name, address, date of birth. Christopher Barnes, an aircraft mechanic, had been fifty-three at the time. His words had the traditionally stilted air that came from a police officer translating them from colloquial English to officialese.
I attended my place of work at Elstree Aerodrome at 8 a.m. on the morning of 5 May 1994. Upon arrival I changed into my overalls and collected my toolkit from my locker. I performed routine maintenance on a Piper Cheyenne III on the airfield apron. I then proceeded to the hangar where Mr Richard Spencer kept his Cessna Skylane. I arrived there at approximately 9.15. I unlocked the hangar, which was padlocked as usual and showed no sign of forced entry. I was to prepare the plane for a flight to Scotland that morning so I performed a series of checks on the plane itself and on the engine. There was nothing untoward about the body of the plane or the engine. When I checked it over, I could see nothing out of place.
At no point did I leave the hangar unattended. At one point the airfield manager John Saroyan came in and asked me about another customer’s plane. We spoke for about five minutes then he went away. Later, a young man came into the hangar and introduced himself as Will Abbott. He said his mother was to be a passenger in the plane. He was interested in the plane so I told him a bit about it. While he was there, I opened up the hangar and walked out to check there were no hazards outside or on the runway. I was gone for perhaps five minutes at most but Will Abbott was still there when I returned so the hangar was never left unattended.
It is possible that a foreign object such as a bomb could have been hidden in the plane. There are enclosed areas of fuselage which I had no reason to check. Mr Spencer had a key for the padlock and there is also a spare in the office safe. I suppose someone could have got in without it being obvious. We do have security and the local police routinely check the hangar is locked up, but if someone was determined to get in at night they could. But nobody could have interfered with the plane that morning.
Karen read the last sentence aloud and looked at Jason. ‘One person could have.’
He nodded. ‘But who would suspect a teenager whose mother died in the crash?’
‘We would. Let’s see what he has to say for himself.’
A similar preamble then a short statement:
I drove my mother Caroline Abbott and her friend Ellie MacKinnon to Elstree Aerodrome on the morning of 5 May 1994. We got there about ten o’clock. They were flying up to Scotland with their friend Richard Spencer and his wife Mary. Richard was a qualified pilot and had his own plane. Richard was filling out paperwork and the ladies were having a tour of the control tower. I was interested in the plane. I’d never seen a small plane up close before so I went to the hangar.
Mr Barnes, the mechanic, showed me the plane. Then he opened the doors and went outside to check everything was OK for take-off. He was gone for a few minutes and I was there the whole time so nobody could have got in then and planted a bomb. Then Mr Spencer and the passengers came out to the hangar. I gave my mum a hug and said goodbye to her and Ellie, then I watched as they got in the plane and taxied out to the runway and took off. That was the last time I saw my mum.
She put the statement down. ‘Means, motive and opportunity. That’d be good enough for Miss Marple.’ She sighed. ‘Unfortunately we have the small matter of proof.’
‘How do we get that?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t know if we can. We need to pull together as much circumstantial as we can.’
Jason produced another piece of paper with a flourish. ‘And speaking of circumstantial, see what I found!’
It was a statement from Frank Sinclair’s driver. Jason stabbed one paragraph with his finger. ‘Look at that. Either the mechanic was lying or he forgot.’
Karen read the key passage. ‘“Mr Sincla
Jason went back to the timeline. ‘According to this, they arrived a good twenty minutes ahead of the others.’
‘Where was Sinclair then? Before the tour of the control tower?’
‘It doesn’t say. Everybody thought it was the IRA, all they were looking at was access to the plane. They weren’t checking every movement of the passengers or the people with them because they were all above suspicion. Do you still think the plane crash is tied in with the Gabriel Abbott murder?’
‘I do. It’s too much of a stretch not to. Gabriel takes an interest in his history and boom, next thing he’s dead.’
‘I think because finding out the truth about his past would make him reconsider what he’d always believed about the plane crash. Not to mention that he’d be pretty bloody angry with Will for doing him out of his inheritance, which he’d realise as soon as he saw Ellie’s will. And who knows where that would have ended up, if he’d pursued it? All sorts of awkward questions start to rear their heads then. They’d probably already started, which was why Will – or Frank Sinclair – decided Gabriel had to be taken out of the picture.’
Jason scratched his armpit while he considered. ‘It’s a bit harsh,’ he said. ‘I mean, what kind of person kills his mother then kills his brother just because things might get a bit sticky?’
‘There’s a thing called narcissistic personality disorder. People who have an inflated sense of their own importance, a lack of empathy for others. They’re vain, they crave the power over others they think they deserve. They can be arrogant and callous. They think they’re better than everybody else and they don’t care who they trample on in their desire to get what they want.’
‘A bit like Donald Trump, then?’
Karen grinned. ‘Nail on the head, Jason. Controlling, blaming, self-absorbed, intolerant. And always that high opinion of themselves.’
‘Maybe that’s how Will Abbott is so successful in business.’
‘And Frank Sinclair. Which reminds me. The SUV that tried to run me over. It could theoretically have got away without being caught on a camera if the driver knew the roads round here, but I think it’s more likely that it wasn’t a local. The most likely one was a company car from an outfit in Newcastle called Spartacular. I need to check it out . . . ’ As she spoke, she was already logging on to a company search website that Police Scotland subscribed to. ‘Spartacular,’ she muttered, waiting for results. ‘Gotcha.’ She skimmed the page. ‘CGI specialists, apparently. Image rendering.’ Then she stopped scrolling. ‘Fuck.’
‘What?’ Jason got up and looked over her shoulder. ‘“Wholly owned by Glengaming plc since 2014.” That’s Will Abbott’s company. We’ve got him bang to rights.’
‘Hang on, Jason. Hang on. It’s just another bit of circumstantial flim-flam. It doesn’t prove anything yet.’
But even as she spoke, Jason was reaching for the phone. He keyed in the number displayed on the screen for Spartacular. Dismayed, Karen said, ‘No, wait.’ But it was too late.
‘Hello. This is Detective Constable Jason Murray from Police Scotland. We have a report of an incident on Tuesday evening involving a vehicle registered to your company . . . Yes, I’ll hold.’ He gave Karen the thumbs up. He covered the mouthpiece. ‘Gimme the reg, quick!’
Karen scrambled through her phone where she’d noted the SUVs’ registration plate details. She passed him the phone and pointed out the one she was interested in.
A moment passed, then Jason repeated what he’d said before, adding the registration number Karen had shown him. ‘And so I need to know who was driving the vehicle at the time of the incident . . . Yes, I appreciate that . . . Aye, well, I’m trying to spare you the embarrassment of having uniformed police turning up at your offices for something so trivial . . . No, no question of charges, it’s only a witness statement . . . ’ He rolled his eyes and made the sign of hanging himself with his free hand. ‘I appreciate that. But honestly, I’d like to get this sorted out asap, you know how it is? I only need a name to finish off my paperwork. You will? Excellent.’ He recited his official email address and the Gayfield Square office number. ‘You’ve been very helpful, thank you.’ His grin was so wide she thought it must hurt. ‘He’s going to email me the details soon as he gets the chance to look at the vehicle logs.’
‘I can’t believe you just did that.’
Jason looked embarrassed. ‘Sometimes I say to myself, “What would Phil have done?” and I do it.’
An unexpected wave of emotion brought a lump to her throat. Phil would have laughed like a drain at the thought of being a role model for the Mint. ‘Me too,’ she said. ‘He’d complain that we never paid that much attention when he was alive.’
‘You did,’ Jason said. ‘You do. You pay attention all the time. There’s not many bosses would have pulled my nuts out the fire the way you did the other day.’
Karen chuckled. ‘You might be a numpty sometimes, but better the numpty you know.’ She contemplated the papers on her desk. ‘I think we’ve done a pretty good day’s work, Jason. Let’s knock it on the head now before we screw up.’
He looked at her out of the corner of his eyes. ‘Do you fancy a pint?’
He’d never suggested that before, always waiting for her to take the lead. But a lot of things seemed to be happening for the first time between them. Karen nodded. ‘Why not?’
Karen wanted to be near Haymarket to make it easier for her to meet River. So Jason decided he’d have two pints and take the train home. They crossed Leith Walk and caught a 26 to the West End, heading into Ryrie’s Bar. They found space at the polished wood counter, where Jason ordered a pint of Flying Scotsman. Karen stuck with gin, going for a Blackwood’s with tonic. Shetland botanicals, fresh and fragrant. The first burst of flavour on her tongue lifted the grey from the day.
Neither of them noticed that the man in the North Face jacket at the other end of the bar had been in the same bus queue. Even after the attempt on her life, Karen had no thought that anyone would be on her tail. She was used to being the watcher, not the watched.
‘So, what will we do if it turns out Will Abbott was driving that SUV?’ Jason asked, filling his mouth with crisps.
‘I’m not talking about work,’ Karen said firmly. ‘I need to not think about what comes next. Let it churn away in the background for a wee while. Talk to me about football or politics or where you fancy living in Edinburgh.’
Jason thought for as long as it took him to demolish the rest of the crisps. ‘Did you know that between January and the play-offs, Raith Rovers scored ten more points than any other Championship side?’
Karen, who knew this from her irrepressible Twitter feed, feigned ignorance. ‘That’s amazing,’ she said. ‘Phil would have enjoyed that.’
It was all the encouragement Jason needed to talk about the vexed questions of Scottish football for the rest of his pint and most of the next one. When he finally ran out of facts and opinions, he stopped dead and gave Karen a blank look. ‘I don’t really do politics,’ he said. ‘That Ruth Davidson’s a bit of a comic turn sometimes, though.’
Karen smiled. ‘It’s OK, Jason. You’re off the hook. I’m meeting River off the train in ten minutes. We’re going to the Vietnamese café up the road for a bowl of pho.’
He gave a weak smile. ‘That’s spicy, right?’
‘Unless it’s a vindaloo after a few pints, you know?’
‘Away home to your mum’s cooking.’ Karen finished her drink and patted him on the shoulder. ‘I’ll see you in the morning. I’ll have slept on things. I’ll know then what we’re going to do next.’
Karen and River perched on stools at the window counter of the Vietnamese café, waiting for their bowls of pho to cool down. River didn’t look like a professor in Scotland’s leading forensic science establishment. With her mane of red hair, her battered waxed jacket and disreputable old work boots, she looked more like a spruced-up traveller. Karen always half-expected to see a mongrel of dubious temperament at her heels. But underestimating River would be a serious mistake.
Karen had explained her dilemma on the short walk from the station. Now they were settled with food, River was ready to engage. ‘You’re doing your usual thing,’ she said with weary good humour.
‘What do you mean, my usual thing?’
‘You’re overcomplicating the issue. You’ve got this brilliant idea and you’ve picked it up and run with it without stopping to think. You always do this. You’re so smart you never stop at the first step. You can’t help yourself running all the way up the stairs.’
Karen made a show of pretending to be offended. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Jason made a smart connection. And by the way, what’s that about? Jason showing signs of life above the neck?’
‘He’s learning,’ Karen said defensively. ‘He keeps asking himself what Phil would have done.’
River raised her eyebrows. ‘It’s not a bad mantra, as these things go. Anyway. Jason made a connection. And you were so excited by the prospect it opened up that you went straight from nought to ninety in no time at all without pausing to consider.’
Out of Bounds by Val McDermid / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes