Out of bounds, p.5
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       Out of Bounds, p.5

           Val McDermid
Linda stretched her lips in a parody of a smile. ‘I can’t sleep. I can’t concentrate on anything. I keep praying he’ll be all right, and then I think he’ll never be all right again. Not with his three friends on his conscience. And he’ll be going to the jail, won’t he? And that’ll be the end of everything.’

  She was right about that, at least. Karen tried to look sympathetic. ‘I’m not actually here in relation to Ross’s accident,’ she said. ‘Detective Constable Murray and I are attached to Police Scotland’s Historic Cases Unit.’ That always sounded better than the more truthful, We ARE Police Scotland’s HCU.

  Linda folded her hands tightly in her lap and frowned. ‘I don’t understand.’

  ‘At the hospital, after the accident, a routine blood sample was taken from Ross. It has to be analysed so we know his blood alcohol level at the time of the crash. In these circumstances, it’s Police Scotland’s practice to do a DNA test as well. The results of that test are compared to the national DNA database—’

  Linda’s fingers fiddled restlessly. ‘I still don’t understand,’ she interrupted. ‘Are you trying to pin some crime on Ross? Because he’s not a criminal. He’s just young and daft.’ Her voice cracked. She was trying hard to convince herself, but deep down that was a battle she knew she’d already lost. ‘We did our best for him.’ Her fists clenched and her eyes glistened.

  ‘I’m sure you did. But it’s not Ross we’re interested in. The blood sample that was taken from Ross is an indirect match for an outstanding crime.’

  ‘What do you mean, “an indirect match”?’ Linda butted in again. One of those who could never manage to wait for the explanation to finish, Karen thought. She bet Stewart Garvie never got to finish a thought uninterrupted. ‘What outstanding crime?’

  ‘I know it’s hard to get your head round, but the DNA tells us that a close male relative of Ross was involved in a case a long time ago, a case that we didn’t manage to solve at the time,’ Karen said.

  ‘But we still have the evidence,’ the Mint added, trying to be helpful.

  Linda shook her head. ‘You’ve come to the wrong place. Just because Ross did a bad thing, it doesn’t mean we’ve got anything to do with something that happened years ago.’

  Karen tried again. ‘There’s no arguing with the science, Mrs Garvie. There’s no doubt about what the DNA is telling us. But before we speak to your husband, I need to ask you a few questions.’

  ‘This is ridiculous,’ Linda protested, getting to her feet and reaching out to steady herself on the chair. The colour had left her face, emphasising the dark bruises under her eyes. ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree. My Stewart has nothing to do with any crime you’re trying to pin on him.’

  ‘Were you actually married to Mr Garvie twenty years ago?’ the Mint barged in again. ‘Only, if you weren’t, you won’t have any notion of what he might have been doing then.’ He caught Karen’s withering look. ‘I’m only saying.’

  ‘You’re not listening to me,’ Linda said, her voice rising. ‘I don’t care what your DNA says, this has got nothing to do with Stewart. Some detectives you are. Whoever did your crime, it wasn’t my husband. And you know how I can be so sure of that? Because Stewart isn’t Ross’s father.’


  Karen’s first thought was that Linda Garvie had apparently not always been quite so strait-laced. Had she had an affair? Or had she been a single mum when she married Stewart Garvie? She didn’t have long to wonder.

  ‘Ross was adopted. He came to us when he was five days old. We’re not his biological parents. Whoever your DNA connects to, it’s not Stewart.’ That explained why the boy in the photograph didn’t look like either of his parents. Linda had sounded almost triumphant. After a few days of everything going against her, she’d finally scored a point.

  Karen was taken aback. Suddenly what had seemed like a straightforward march to resolving a cold case had turned into a multilayered problem that she had no idea how to attack.

  For once, Jason got to the point ahead of her. ‘Where from?’ he asked.

  ‘What?’ Linda seemed distracted now.

  ‘Where did you get him from?’

  ‘Was it a private adoption or through a formal agency?’ Karen clarified.

  Linda’s face cleared. ‘It was a charity. I can give you the details. But I’m not sure if they still exist.’ She moved towards the door. ‘I’ll look them out, I know where they are.’

  ‘Before you do that, Mrs Garvie—’ Now Karen stood up too. ‘Do you know the name of Ross’s real father?’

  Linda’s eyes narrowed in a hostile glare. ‘Stewart’s his real father.’

  Karen was momentarily furious with herself for the kind of tactless misstep she’d have hammered Jason for. ‘I’m sorry. Of course. I meant his biological father.’

  There was no relenting in Linda’s harsh expression. ‘We were never given those details. We didn’t want to know. As far as we were concerned, Ross was ours from the moment he was put in my arms. I don’t even know what his birth mother had named him.’

  ‘Has he never wanted to know?’ Jason said, scrambling to his feet as if he’d just realised he was the only one still seated.

  Linda dropped the hard stare and turned away. ‘No. Because we never told him. As far as Ross knows, he’s our son. We never wanted him to feel like he didn’t belong.’

  That had turned out well, Karen thought. All teenagers wanted to believe they were changelings, cuckoos dropped in some completely rubbish nest. If you really were an outsider, she suspected you must be conscious of that at some subliminal level. The logical result of that would be to wage war against the world you knew wasn’t yours. She wasn’t thinking to excuse Ross Garvie, but maybe the extent of his rebellion had its roots in this ill-fitting respectability. ‘And you never felt curious?’ she asked.

  Linda met her eyes again. ‘I didn’t want to know. Every­body talks about nature versus nurture. Well, I knew we could nurture him better than his birth mother could.’ She gave a sharp, harsh bark of laughter. ‘I didn’t want to know if we had anything to fear from his nature. We were arrogant enough to think that the home we gave him, the love we gave him was enough to overcome any bad blood that was in him.’ She shook her head, a bitter twist to her mouth. ‘Shows how stupid we were.’ Then with an abrupt, jerky movement, she hurried from the room.

  ‘Is that us buggered, then?’ The Mint spoke softly, leaning so close to Karen that she caught a whiff of bacon from his jacket.

  ‘Could well be. I know nothing about the legal position.’ Then she smiled. ‘But I’m pretty sure I know somebody who does.’

  Giorsal Kennedy had always known she’d never move back to Fife until she’d made something of herself. Now she’d reached the lofty heights of Area Team Leader in the Social Work Department, she reckoned nobody could fold their arms across their chest, purse their lips and accuse her of returning with her tail between her legs. Even if her marriage had collapsed in a cacophony of recriminations, leaving her with two kids and a divorce settlement barely worthy of the name.

  But moving back to Fife from Beckenham had meant her share of the equity in their tiny suburban box went a lot further. Their modern house in Glenrothes felt palatial after their cramped existence down south. They even had a garden backing on to a clump of conifers you could almost call woodland. Thirteen-year-old Jess and eleven-year-old Becca seemed to think having separate bedrooms as well as a TV and games room of their own was a reasonable trade-off for the absence of their father. Not least because he’d hardly ever been there. Apparently, being a shift leader in the Fire Service meant you had to play a lot of golf when you weren’t actually hanging around waiting to put out fires.

  There was no doubt about one thing. She was getting a lot more support with the kids now she’d ditched Victor than she had when they were married. Living a five-minute walk from their grandparents
made childcare easier and there was no question that the girls liked hanging with Giorsal’s parents far better than any after-school club.

  She’d been back a shade over a year now, and Giorsal was beginning to feel confident that she’d got the measure of her team. She’d accompanied them on home visits, sat in on client interviews and reviewed their strategic provisions. Based on what she’d seen and heard, she’d drawn up new guidelines and programmes for her staff to incorporate in their work. She’d been accused of micro-managing in the past but she considered herself merely to be thorough. It wasn’t her fault if other people were too lazy to know exactly what was happening on their patch. When some child was tortured and murdered by its mother’s boyfriend, or a paranoid schizophrenic jettisoned his medications and stabbed somebody on a bus, or an elderly person lay dead and undiscovered for weeks in their own home, time and time again it was the team leader who took the rap, not the frontline worker. Somehow, they could win sympathy by claiming overwhelming caseloads; managers were supposed to take that in their stride. So Giorsal made sure she knew exactly what the story was on her watch.

  Now she’d come to terms with the workload and the personalities, it was time to build a social life. She’d been invited out by her colleagues for drinks, birthday meals, leaving dos. Even a Ladies Day trip to a Raith Rovers match, for God’s sake. As if there wasn’t enough suffering in the job. But Giorsal liked to have a private life that was separate from her professional world.

  So she’d asked her mother who was still around from her schooldays. It was a good bet that there would be a fair few. A lot of Fifers were disinclined to move away from their roots. She remembered a song her dad used to sing: ‘Fife’s got everything, just the place for tourists’. It had been darkly satirical, she recalled, but at its heart lay an unacknowledged truth that plenty of Fifers believed the chorus line to be nothing less than the reality. It had been no surprise when her mother rattled off half a dozen names without pause for thought.

  Giorsal recognised them. Girls she’d been pals with lower down the school, but none she’d been close to. ‘And then there’s Karen Pirie.’ Etta Kennedy’s voice dropped, giving full weight to the syllables. ‘Did you see her in the papers?’

  Even down south, it had been impossible to miss. The murder of a police officer was rare enough to be splashed on the front of every daily paper and most internet websites. Giorsal vaguely remembered Phil Parhatka – she’d been in the Guides with his sister – but she hadn’t realised till she’d seen the stories that he was Karen Pirie’s bidie-in. ‘That must have been terrible for her,’ she said. Karen as a teenager was vivid in her memory – quick with a quip, clever enough to get away with backchatting the teachers, a bit on the chubby side. Always looked like she’d been dragged through a hedge backwards, even in her best Saturday-night outfit. She liked Karen. They’d been pals, but never best pals. It had been a genuine surprise when someone with so little respect for authority had joined the police. Giorsal hadn’t known quite what to make of it. So when she’d gone off to university, they slipped out of touch.

  But now, Karen Pirie might possibly be the sort of woman who could be a friend. They were both recently single, for very different reasons. Between that and their history, there might be enough common ground to forge a friendship. So when work had thrown Detective Inspector Jimmy Hutton into her path, she’d asked about Karen Pirie.

  ‘Good lassie, good polis,’ he’d said. Succinct as he always was. She liked that about Jimmy. Even though the work his unit did crossed paths with some of the hardest parts of her own job, he didn’t beat about the bush with euphemisms and jargon. When a man battered his partner, Jimmy didn’t talk about anger issues. He talked about making bad bastards’ lives hellish. Then he and his squad set about making good on those promises.

  Research had shown that men who engaged in domestic violence often led lives of low-level criminality. The sort of pettiness that made them feel big but didn’t generally attract much attention from the police. Jimmy and his Murder Prevention Team took a different line. They prosecuted every tiny infringement as hard and as often as they could. She’d once overheard his response to a bully accusing the police of harassment. ‘You fuck off out of her life, and we’ll fuck off out of yours,’ he’d snarled. Sure enough, the man had packed his bags within the week.

  ‘Are you not simply kicking the can down the street?’ she’d asked him.

  ‘If every division plays the same game, they’re going to run out of street,’ Jimmy had said grimly. ‘Zero tolerance and no hiding place. That’s what we’re aiming for.’

  So Giorsal had been more than willing to take Karen at Jimmy’s estimation. She’d put contacting Karen somewhere near the middle of her To Do list. One day soon, she’d promised herself. She hadn’t imagined that it would be Karen who’d make the first move. Giorsal had been sitting in the bright little cupboard of an office that was technically an interview room but which she had annexed in flagrant defiance of the department’s hot-desking policy, reading the pathologist’s report on Gabriel Abbott’s autopsy, when her landline had rung.

  ‘Giorsal Kennedy speaking, how can I help you?’ Just because you were a boss didn’t mean you should stop making an effort with people. Too many senior managers answered the phone sounding like you were deliberately messing with their day simply by daring to call them.


  The teenage nickname knocked Giorsal off her stride. Nobody had called her that since she went away to university in Birmingham and reinvented herself. ‘Who is this?’ Her warm tone had shifted towards caution.

  ‘I don’t know if you remember me from school? Karen Pirie?’

  Giorsal couldn’t quite believe it. ‘I was only talking about you the other day,’ she said.

  ‘Snap,’ Karen said. ‘Jimmy Hutton said he’s been working with you.’

  ‘That’s right.’ She took a deep breath. ‘It’s amazing to hear from you. My mum was saying we should get in touch now I’m back.’

  ‘Well, here I am, in touch,’ Karen said. She sounded a bit embarrassed, Giorsal thought.

  ‘That’s great. Jimmy said you were in Edinburgh these days, but maybe we could meet for a drink? Or a pizza? Or something? If you’re ever over this way?’ Shut up, girl, you’re sounding like a needy teenager.

  ‘I’d like that.’ Pause. ‘But I was wondering if you could spare me half an hour later today? Business rather than pleasure, I’m afraid. But we could make plans to link up in our own time.’

  Disappointment burst Giorsal’s bubble. Why had she expected anything else? Karen must have her own life, her own friends. Why would Giorsal expect someone so well established on their old patch to be interested in a schoolmate tainted with the aura of failure that came with divorce? ‘Sure,’ she said, trying for breezy. ‘What can I help you with?’

  ‘I don’t know if Jimmy said, but I head up the Historic Cases Unit. I could use some advice about adoption law. It’s relevant to a case that’s just come in, and I thought of you.’

  ‘Well, it’s not my specific area of expertise . . . ’

  ‘You must know more than me.’ Karen chuckled. ‘Our dog knows more about it than me, Gus.’

  Giorsal laughed. The ‘our dog knows more’ line had been the staple sarcastic put-down of their French teacher. With that single phrase, Karen had broken through Giorsal’s self-pity. ‘I’ve got a decent grasp of the subject. Are you in Edinburgh?’

  ‘No, I’m in Dundee right now. Can you squeeze me in later?’

  ‘I’ve got a meeting at three, but I’m only playing catch-up with my in-tray till then. Come on over. I can offer you a decent cup of tea or a truly terrible coffee. You know where I am?’

  They sorted out the practicalities then said goodbye. Giorsal did a little dance in her chair. Fuck Victor, she could make a life on her own. Why had she ever doubted it?

br />
  Karen wouldn’t have minded an office in the Social Work Department in Glenrothes. Modern. Designed for what it was being used for. Big windows and car parking. Everything her office was not. ‘You sure you don’t want me along, boss?’ The Mint’s raw-boned face looked troubled. ‘I mean, this could be evidence, right?’

  The requirement of the Scottish legal system for corroboration was the reason officers conducted interviews in pairs. Sometimes Karen felt as if she was attached to Jason by a judicial umbilical cord, perpetual parent to a slow learner. ‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘It’s only background. I need to find out how the land lies. There’s plenty of experts we can wheel out if we need to spell it out in court.’ Karen opened the car door.

  The Mint’s expression cleared, replaced by his usual bovine placidity. ‘OK. So, have I to go back to the office, then?’

  She paused, one foot on the ground. Did he seriously think she would tell him to call it a day when it wasn’t even lunchtime? ‘Go through the files, make a list of the officers who worked the original inquiry and track down contact details for them.’

  ‘What? All of them?’

  ‘Just the CID, Jason. Start with the SIO and work your way down the pyramid. We need to talk to them, find out what’s not in the paperwork. You know how it goes.’

  He nodded and smiled. ‘Sure thing, boss. The names they never write down, the gossip they never nail down, the theories they never set down.’ Another of Karen’s mantras that she’d managed to instil in him.

  ‘Exactly. Somewhere in there, the name of Ross Garvie’s dad or his uncle is lurking. He’s been walking around for twenty years thinking he’s got clean away with what he did to Tina McDonald. And we are his worst nightmare, Jason. We are always his worst nightmare.’ Karen pushed herself out of the car and closed the door behind her. She was done with talking to the Mint. Time for grown-up conversation.

  She fully expected that from Giorsal Kennedy. Gus, as she’d chosen to be known to her friends, had never been a silly wee lassie. She’d always been thoughtful. She didn’t rush into things, always considering the possible outcomes before she made her choices. Even so, in a teenage world that valued conformity masquerading as rebellion, Gus had never been short of friends. She’d definitely been more popular than Karen, who hadn’t yet learned the techniques that these days spared Jason the rough side of her tongue. Back then, Karen had refused to suffer fools, gladly or other­wise. It hadn’t made her many friends, but she and Gus had always been pals. As she walked into the social work office, Karen surprised herself with a sense of happy anticipation. It had been a while since she’d felt something so uncomplicated.

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