Out of bounds, p.36
Out of Bounds, p.36Val McDermid
‘Ah yes. That’s the first item on our docket, I believe?’
‘Your docket, not mine. I’m staying well clear of the process on that. I’m the victim, so I’m taking no part in anything except giving a statement. Which is probably less helpful than I would have liked,’ she added wearily.
‘So while we have Mr Abbott in custody for this matter, you want to make progress on another case?’
‘Two cases, actually. One historic, one current. I don’t think we have enough on the historic case. It’s very circumstantial and I don’t see how I can progress it any further.’ Karen went through everything she had uncovered about the plane crash and the complex relationships that coloured in the background. Ruth was recording her, but also making extensive notes in a grey leather notebook. At the end of her recital, Karen rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand, feeling the ache coming back to plague her.
Ruth scratched her chin and frowned at her notes. ‘You need to follow up on that chemistry prize. It may just offer something we can use. I suppose it’s possible Maddie MacKinnon may have something to add.’
‘I doubt it very much. Maddie burned those papers to avoid a scandal back then. She’s not going to backtrack on that now. She won’t say anything that reflects badly on Will. But we shouldn’t forget Frank Sinclair in all of this. He was at the aerodrome that morning. And he had the kind of connections to arrange for a bomb. I’d certainly want to talk to him about 1994. Because I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d goaded Will into getting rid of Gabriel when it all looked like it was coming on top.’
Ruth’s eyes widened in surprise. ‘You really think so? A peer of the realm?’
‘I think these are greedy selfish people who will do whatever it takes to keep their grip on the power and wealth and status that they live by.’
The silence between them held for a long moment, then Ruth spoke. ‘Karen – it’s all right if I call you Karen? – I think we have to let this one go. It might be worth running alongside the contemporary case if we get anything on the chemistry prize, but otherwise it’s very slender. Though, for what it’s worth, I do think you’re probably on the right track. So, tell me all about Gabriel Abbott’s death.’
Ruth Wardlaw put her pen down and breathed deeply. ‘You’re right. It’s thin.’
Karen smiled. ‘But it’s the kind of thin that could well be fleshed out quite conclusively. Establishing Abbott’s whereabouts on the night of the murder would be a start. Searching his home in London and finding forensic traces on his clothes would be another. Checking the ANPR cameras between Newcastle and Kinross for that night also moves us forward. Triangulation on Abbott’s phone needs to be done, and that might pin him down even more precisely. Publicity around the case might even give us the source of the gun. We’ve got a motive that we can boil down simply to the threat of Gabriel coming after his share of the empire Will built on a partially stolen inheritance.’
‘Agreed. But those are all contingencies that might not come good. Still . . . there’s no doubt in my mind that he did commit a serious offence against you.’
‘So, what? You think we should go ahead and charge him?’
‘Generally, in this sort of situation, I would want to err on the side of caution. My job is to prosecute cases that will result in convictions. But there is one thing that marks this case out as a wee bit different.’
‘What’s that?’ Karen was intrigued.
‘Ellie MacKinnon. She was a star before TV became completely fragmented, before kids’ channels were common as chips. She was hugely popular with anyone who was a child while she was presenting. She’s embedded in people’s souls like John Noakes and Valerie Singleton. We’d only have to suggest that Will Abbott might have blown up that plane and already we’ve turned a chunk of the jury against him.’
‘That’s very devious,’ Karen said, admiring the tactic. Perhaps she’d found an unexpected new ally.
‘And not to go beyond this room.’ Ruth gave a wry smile.
‘So, you’d support me charging him?’
‘I think you need to interview him. He’ll “no comment”, obviously. But for the record, you need to try. And unless the wheels come off at some point, then you charge him. And we will, of course, be opposing bail. Because otherwise it will be very difficult to access some of the potential sources of forensic evidence.’ She pointed at Karen’s sling. ‘I hate to say this, but being able to charge him with attempted murder on a police officer makes my life a lot simpler.’
Karen snorted. ‘Happy to help. So, let’s get this show on the road.’
Cameron Campbell looked astonished when Karen and Jason walked into the interview room. As Jason set the recording equipment running and completed the litany of formalities, the solicitor interrupted. ‘This is completely inappropriate. DCI Pirie, you’re the victim in an assault case in which my client is a witness. At the very least, this could be seen as interfering with a witness.’
‘We will not be touching on the events of last night. My inquiries are related to a completely separate matter. Two cases which I have been investigating. One comes under the remit of the Historic Cases Unit, of which I am the commanding officer. The other is ancillary to that.’
Campbell, with an air of affront, leaned over and whispered to Abbott, who was now sitting more erect in his seat, still and alert. His eyes never left Karen as he listened to his solicitor. He turned his head to mutter a low reply but kept his gaze locked with hers. ‘My client will be making no comment at this stage.’
Karen stared at Abbott. She was gratified to see a long scratch along the line of his jaw. She hoped it stung. The dull ache in her shoulder was competing with the one in her head and all she wanted to do was take more painkillers and go to sleep. Instead, she knew she had to go through the motions. ‘Will Abbott, did you murder Gabriel Abbott?’
A tiny smirk lifted one corner of his mouth, as if to say, ‘Is that your best shot?’ What he said was, ‘No comment.’
‘Are you the owner of a Smith and Wesson 457 handgun?’
‘Is your company, Glengaming, the beneficial owner of Spartacular, based in Newcastle?’
‘How long have you been aware that Lord Sinclair is the biological father of Gabriel Abbott?’
And so it continued. Karen’s questions dodged hither and thither in a bid to unsettle Abbott. But nothing disturbed his calm, although his solicitor’s professional demeanour did suffer a few ripples along the way. After thirty minutes of getting nowhere, Campbell grew restive. ‘This is a fishing expedition,’ he complained. ‘Either charge my client or release him.’
Karen smiled. ‘I’m happy to oblige,’ she said conversationally, buoyed up by the thought of the Macaroon’s inevitable apoplectic response. ‘Because, Will, you’re an amateur. People like you, smart, successful people, you think you can turn your hand to murder and get away with it because you’re smart and successful. You’ve watched all the forensics dramas and the true-crime shows on the telly, you’ve listened to the podcasts and you’ve read the books. You’ve watched how the little people get caught out. And you think that won’t happen to you because you’re smart and you’re successful.’ More smiles.
‘I asked you whether you were in Kinross on the night of your brother’s murder. You said, “No comment.” And from your point of view, it’s really good that you didn’t deny it, because it never looks good in court when we demonstrate that a suspect lied in their interview. So you’re lucky. We didn’t catch you out in a lie. Because we do have a witness who doesn’t just put you in Kinross that night but has you greeting your – what shall we call him? Your “not-brother”? – with a warm embrace. He’s identified you from a photo line-up.’
She could see muscles twitching under the skin of his face. Amateurs. They thought they could handle themselves. But i
Karen kept her voice light and pleasant. ‘That’s the first thing you’re going to struggle to wriggle out of. And trust me, Will, there are going to be a lot more of these awkward pieces of information to sidestep.’
‘Is there going to be a question here at any point, Chief Inspector? Some evidence, perhaps? As I said, charge my client or release him.’
‘I know you’re expecting me not to charge you, Will. Your lawyer will have told you we’ve not got enough evidence. But the Fiscal Depute thinks different. And I know that when we get the lab results back, you’re toast. You’ll have been really careful, I know that much. But even if you wore gloves when you were loading the gun, I will guarantee that your DNA will be on those bullets. And that’ll be goodnight, Vienna. So, Will Abbott, I am charging you with the murder of Gabriel Abbott . . . ’ The familiar words rolled out, and at last she saw a response from Abbott. A flash of outrage, a tensing of his shoulders. His mouth tightened and he breathed heavily through his nose.
‘Wait,’ he shouted before she got to the end of the charge. ‘I need to talk to my lawyer.’
Karen and Jason leaned against the wall outside the interview room, heads down, breathing deeply. ‘Is he going to cough?’ Jason said.
‘I don’t think so,’ Karen said. ‘He’s the kind that’ll make us go to the wire.’
Ruth Wardlaw emerged from the viewing room. She carried herself as if she was walking on eggshells. ‘Good job in there. I thought he was going to tough it out, but then you got under his defences.’
‘Hit them where it hurts. In the vanity,’ Karen said. ‘Make out that he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. Get that worm of doubt growing. Right, Jason?’
Startled, he flinched. ‘Aye, right,’ he gabbled. ‘Like you say, boss.’
Ruth looked at her watch. ‘Shall we run a book on how long they take?’
Campbell opened the door after twenty-two minutes and seventeen seconds by the stopwatch on Jason’s phone. He looked as comfortable as a man who has inadvertently sat in a puddle. ‘If you’d like to continue?’ he said, resignation in his voice.
Once they were settled, he spoke: ‘My client would like to make a statement.’
Will Abbott was back in command of himself. He sat upright, his upper arms tight against his torso. ‘I did not kill Gabriel,’ he said. ‘I admit I was there in Kinross the night he died, but I swear I did not kill him, nor did I know he was going to die. I thought I was just setting up a meeting.’
‘So who did kill him?’ Karen asked quietly.
‘I’d like to explain this in my own way, then you can ask questions.’
Karen knew that, ironically, that was the best way to get the interview moving from her point of view, the style of interview that provoked genuine revelations. The more they talked, the more they gave away, however much they thought they were in control. But she wanted to make him work for it, so she shook her head. ‘That’s not how it works, Will. You’re not in charge here. You’ve made a very serious accusation against a third party which we need to explore.’
‘Why don’t you go and arrest him like you’ve arrested me?’ Anger flashed in his eyes. ‘Frank Sinclair. Lord Sinclair to you. He’s staying at the Balmoral. The J. K. Rowling suite. He’ll be waiting for me to debrief him.’ He gave a sharp little bark of scorn. ‘I wasn’t supposed to be set upon by a gang of immigrants.’
‘I’m not here to talk about what happened earlier. I must ask you not to discuss that in this interview,’ Karen said. ‘Why would I want to arrest Lord Sinclair?’
Abbott gathered himself together again. ‘Because he killed Gabriel. Look, let me tell this in my own way, please. I need you to understand how this happened.’ He sighed, shook his head and looked down at the table. ‘I’ve been in hell since it happened. It’s been a nightmare.’ He met her eyes. ‘It brought it all back to me. Mum and Ellie, dying in that plane crash. I feel as bereft as I did then.’
He was good, Karen thought. ‘Why did Lord Sinclair kill Gabriel?’
‘It’s a very long story.’
‘I think I already know most of it. He was Gabriel’s biological father and Ellie MacKinnon was his mother. It was a secret only three people knew, and then two of them were dead. But you told DI Noble that your mother left a letter for you to be delivered when you were twenty-one, and I’m guessing she told you the truth. Quite a secret to have in your hand, I’d have thought.’
His eyes had widened as she spoke. She loved that moment when they realised she had them on the back foot.
‘Probably a mistake to let Frank know that you knew, though. Pretty high-risk strategy. I’m thinking of that old saying: two can keep a secret, providing one of them is dead. And I’m thinking of how the other two secret-holders died. But of course, you’d have no reason to fear Frank if it had been you that blew the plane up.’ Karen kept smiling, kept her voice gentle. ‘Do you want to tell me about that?’
‘I’m trying to tell you about what happened to Gabriel,’ Will said, the tightness in his throat evident in his voice. ‘Gabriel had started taking an interest in genealogy. He wanted to draw up a family tree.’ He looked away again, shaking his head. ‘Since you already know so much, you presumably know that was hardly straightforward. He was talking about having DNA tests and all sorts. I was afraid of what that might reveal and I went to see Frank to discuss how we should handle it.’
Karen frowned, pretending puzzlement. ‘I don’t understand why you went to Frank. Why not just tell Gabriel the truth?’
He ran a hand through his hair. ‘Gabriel was . . . unstable. I had no idea how he would react. He was quite capable of posting it online. The fact of his paternity. The claim that I’d done him out of his inheritance.’ He spread his hands and tried a boyish smile. ‘I have shareholders to keep happy. Frank has a position in public life. I don’t want my wife and kids to think of me as some kind of crook. I wanted to make sure Gabriel understood that he needed to be discreet.’
‘I see that,’ Karen said. ‘So what was Frank’s reaction?’
‘He wasn’t happy,’ Abbott said. ‘At first he wanted to keep the lid on things. For me not to give Gabriel a DNA sample and, if I had to, to keep Frank’s name out of it. But I knew that wouldn’t work. People love to gossip, you know how it goes. If Gabriel started going round all Mum and Ellie’s friends looking for a potential father, it wouldn’t be long before Frank’s name came up. I said it was better to make a clean breast of it.’
‘And that’s what you were planning that night in Kinross?’
Abbott nodded. ‘Frank said he didn’t want to give Gabriel advance warning of the meeting in case he started shooting his mouth off about it. Frank’s driver brought him up to Newcastle – I’ve been working with a new subsidiary company there recently – and the two of us came up to Edinburgh together. We both checked into the Balmoral and then we went across to Kinross. I knew Gabriel’s habits. He was like clockwork. I knew I could meet him coming out of the pub and walk him along the path towards his cottage. And Frank was going to wait for us on the bench.’
‘Why all this rigmarole? You could just have turned up at Gabriel’s cottage, surely?’
Abbott gave a derisive snort. ‘Because Frank’s a public figure. He thinks everybody recognises him wherever he goes. He was terrified someone would spot him and wonder what he was doing there. I told him there was no chance of that, but he was adamant. Of course, I realise now why he didn’t want to meet at the cottage. He didn’t want to leave forensic traces.’
‘He was planning to kill Gabriel all along?’
Abbott pressed his fingertips against his fore
‘So what happened?’
‘I met Gabriel in the street near the pub. He was surprised to see me, but I explained that I’d brought someone who wanted to talk to him about his personal history. He was excited by the idea.’
‘You told him it was Frank?’
‘No, I said it was to be a surprise. We walked down the path by the loch for about quarter of an hour and when we came to the bench, Frank was there. Gabriel was thrilled to see him. He’d not seen him for a couple of years or more. They sat down and started talking. I hung back a bit, to keep a lookout in case anyone came along. I had my back to them. The next thing I knew, I heard a shot and, when I turned round, Frank was standing over Gabriel.’ He covered his face with his hands. Karen couldn’t have said why, but she didn’t believe his performance of shock and grief. ‘I couldn’t believe it.’
‘What did Frank say?’ Karen knew she had to keep pushing forward.
Abbott dragged his hands down his face. ‘He was totally calm. He just said, “There’s nothing to worry about now, Will.” Like he’d fixed a leaking tap or something. He leaned over Gabriel and put the gun in his hand. I noticed he was wearing gloves. I was in a state of shock; you notice the strangest things.’
‘You could see what he was doing? From where you were standing?’
He froze for a moment, almost imperceptibly. ‘I must have moved closer, I don’t remember doing that. Look, you have to believe me. I loved Gabriel. I grew up thinking of him as my brother. I took care of him, I paid his school fees, I paid his rent, I looked after him.’
‘In fairness, what he should have inherited from his real mother would have paid for all that several times over.’
His mouth tightened. ‘I was legally entitled to everything I got.’
Out of Bounds by Val McDermid / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes