Here’s an early crime story – one of the first to feature my detective, Inspector Lomond.
Thanks to mother nature, the pub had the look of a bunkhouse or a bothy, rather than the stab-inn it was – somewhere east of Ibrox, and just south of heaven. Were it not for the beech trees’ canopy, you would have spotted the flat roof topped with barbed wire. Without the freakishly tall weeds tickling the roughcast walls, you might have made out the graffiti and the barred windows.
Chief Inspector Lomond, sweating heavily in the early afternoon sunlight, crossed the road well in front of the group of youths sat at the bus stop. Nonetheless, a couple of them shouted something at him. After he ignored this, an empty bottle sailed well over his head before exploding on the pavement, disgorging rills of foam to chase the dust into the gutter.
Lomond, unabashed, pushed open the heavy door to the pub.
Inside, the summer was banished, or at least diluted into a watery yellow light. The main feature of the décor was plastic the colour of dried blood. A gargantuan television blared sports news from the wall at the top right-hand corner. Two or three old men sat before this icon, drinking foamy pints with at least one dog lying on its belly in the total darkness beneath the table.
They were a safe distance away from the group of loud young men stationed near the bar, a blend of shaven scalps and dark clothing. Their heads snapped up and their eyes glittered as Lomond sauntered towards the bar.
The barman was cadaverous, bald, seamed and stubbly, his lower jaw lopsided like a badly-fitted shelf. Lomond pictured a pair of dentures, forgotten in a glass by the man’s bed.
“Phew,” the inspector said, drawing a hand across his forehead, “I think I’ve sprung a leak. What a day. Don’t suppose you’ve got a fresh orange and lemonade there?”
Astonished laughter burst out behind Lomond’s left shoulder. The barman didn’t move for almost five full seconds, before muttering: “There’s cola if you want it.”
“That’ll do.” Lomond picked up a newspaper at the bar, and began fanning himself. “How about air conditioning? It’s awful stuffy in here.”
This was met by open, astonished laughter. “Hey mate,” someone shouted, “there’s a swimming pool on the roof, if you want to cool off.”
Lomond faced the crowd of young men, smiling pleasantly. “Forgot my Speedos. I’ll remember for next time, though.”
A kind of exaltation came into the young men’s eyes; a challenge of sorts had been answered.
“You at it, mate?” one of them asked, quietly.
“Not at all. Actually, I was looking for someone. Do you lads know a Mr Edward Fulton?”
There was a sudden still quiet that made Inspector Lomond think of churches before a service. The three old men in front of the television shifted their seats to watch.
One of the young men stood up. Heavily built, he towered over Lomond. White scar tissue criss-crossed his shaven scalp, creating isolated shoals of bristle. At first glance, Lomond had supposed that the thing around his neck was a chain of some kind, until he saw that it was in fact a dotted blue line, with the words: “Please cut here” stencilled just above.
“You got a note for the teacher, wee man?” the young man asked, breathing heavily.
“Not at all. But maybe one of you boys could tell him that Inspector Lomond wants to see him?”
“Lomond. I’m with the CID, son. Oh, thank you.” Lomond took up his drink after the barman set it down. “I’ll just wait over here, if you don’t mind. If you could give Mr Fulton a call I’d be really grateful.”
Lomond walked over to an empty table without waiting for a reply. He nodded towards the three old men. They did not acknowledge him, and drank up quickly, drawing their chairs in before leaving with the dog trooping behind.
Lomond waited, sat with his back to the far wall, ignoring the commotion that grew to his left among the younger patrons. His eye was drawn to a set of mouldering hardback books left on the windowsill, their faded gold-leaf titles guarded by a legion of dead flies.
Not too much later, a short man in a black shirt appeared at the front door. He recognised Lomond instantly.
He still had a fine head of hair, Lomond noted, although he’d put on a little bit of weight since they’d last met, spare flesh welding his neck to his cheeks.
This man stood before Lomond’s table, clenching and unclenching his fists. However, his voice was controlled, well-modulated in order to carry across the room.
“Inspector. Nice to see you.”
“And yourself, Edward.” Lomond stood up, but did not offer his hand. “Thanks for coming by.”
The man with the perforated tattoo around his neck lunged into view. His jaw worked hard, as if he was working on getting the marrow from a bone. “Want me to get rid of this prick?” he snarled.
Edward Fulton raised his hand. “No, Jackie, it’s fine. Myself and the Inspector were going to take a wee walk down the road. Isn’t that right, Inspector?”
“Fine day for it,” Lomond agreed.
Once they were outside, Fulton said: “You better make this fucking quick.”
“I won’t take up too much of your time,” Lomond said. “Just wanted to talk to you about a wee case I’ve been working on.”
Fulton said nothing as the pair moved past the bus stop. The same teenagers were still perched within, but their demeanour changed when they saw Fulton. Lomond picked the tallest, broadest one to stare at; the lad looked away quickly.
“I’m looking into something involving a lad – about the height of that boy in the bus shelter with the bunnet. Maybe about the same build, too.”
Fulton shrugged. “Could be anybody round here. I’m a long way off running about the streets with weans, Lomond.”
“Well, this boy wasn’t up for running around the streets, either, Edward. He was cut from different cloth. Nice boy, going to uni. An engineer. From a rough area, but good parents. Excellent set of friends. Going places. Well, he had a wee spot bother the other week.”
“Sounds a pity,” Fulton said.
“He was on a night out. There were some girls from his course there – from the States. American girls. Exchange trip. You know how it is these days. You get students from all over the planet in this city now. People from Hong Kong, Peru, the Ukraine – it’s amazing how small the world is.”
“Aye,” Fulton drawled, “life’s vast tapestry. Can you get to the point?”
“Well, this group of students were at a cash point at maybe 1am on Saturday up the town. A group of young lads comes over, sees the girls – American girls, excitable with it – and… you can probably guess the rest. A couple of comments aimed at the girls turns to outright abuse. So this boy – the one I was talking about before – decides to say something to these lads.”
“Silly boy,” Fulton said.
Lomond shrugged. “What can I say, Edward? He comes from a nice family. They might have brought him up to look after people. Anyway, he makes a challenge, and something horrible happens. It’s over in a couple of minutes. One of the boys who was making the comments chibs him, roughly here…” Lomond indicated a point on his throat, where an untidy salt-and-pepper beard clawed at his rounded face… “And here.” Then he pointed to his left eye.
“Nasty. Maybe the boy should have kept his mouth shut,” Fulton sniffed. “Playing the hero is a quick way to get yourself done in, in this town.”
Lomond continued: “He bled to death, right beside the cash point. His friends couldn’t do a thing about it. One of the girls used her top to wrap around his throat, to stop the blood. But it didn’t make any difference. Awful thing to see.”
“Hope he got a nice send-off. Horrible when the young ones go, eh?”
“That’s true. But I’m more interested at this point in what happened to the group of lads who were involved. In particular, the lad with the knife.”
“And how can I help you there?”
“We did some digging and poking. It turns out that the group of lads piled into a taxi. The taxi took a very strange route, up and down some odd streets, and disappeared off the CCTV for a wee while. But we’ve traced the driver and found out that he dropped the lads off back at your pub.” Lomond indicated the razor-topped squat little building with his thumb. “Seems there was a lock-in of some kind ongoing at the time.”
“Really? I’ll have to speak to the barman about that. It’s against the house rules.”
“I was wondering: do you know anything about the crowd who came in?”
Fulton laughed. “Look, inspector. If you don’t mind – I do have business to attend to. I’ve taken a lot of time out of my schedule. I don’t know a thing about this case, honestly. Now, if you want to speak to the barman, or anyone else who was there, then that’s fine by me. You can do it officially. You can get some of the busies to come in and raid the place, if you like. Just let me know when it’s going to happen in advance – I’ll make sure the tabletops are nice and clean for you.”
Lomond smiled, and said: “That’s nice of you Edward. The thing is, that’s all going to happen anyway. But you do owe me.”
Fulton stopped in the street. The side of his mouth twitched. With a kind of detached curiosity, Lomond wondered if the other man was winding up to land him one. “Owe you?”
“Of course, Edward. In lots and lots of ways. From the very start.”
Fulton scratched at his jaw, and spat on the street. “What are you asking me here?”
“Give me a name and a face. That’s all. Or we might be forced to investigate your business interests a bit more thoroughly than we have been of late.”
“Listen, you wee prick,” Fulton growled. “Since I got out, I’ve been playing the game. The taxes get paid. The rules get followed. The certificates get signed. I’m legit, now, inspector. I’m playing the game right down the line. The money, the businesses, the property – everything done by the book.
“I’ve learned since I was inside. I’ve done all the courses, I’ve sat the exams – I even went to college with some of the nice boys you were talking about earlier. So, no – I don’t owe you a fucking thing. Not – one – thing.” Here, he did strike Lomond – prodding him painfully in the chest.
Lomond did not flinch, nor raise his hands. “Edward, I’ll remind you about your mother.”
Fulton turned away, almost too angry to look at him. “You bastard. You wee bastard.”
“We did you a favour,” Lomond said. “She should have gone inside, Edward, she really should. Possession of one firearm is enough to land you in the big hoose – never mind possessing them in those quantities. It’s not the sort of thing we turn a blind eye to, even if she’s just holding onto them for her beloved son. But we made allowances. We only confiscated them, and took her at her word. Her age was taken into account. Suspended sentence. For the sake of peace, Edward. For the sake of our other investigations. You must know that.”
“We’re done here,” Fulton said. He began to walk away.
“I could arrest you, right now,” Lomond said. “I’m not saying that to threaten you. It’s just the next step. And then I’ll ask you about the raid we made at the lock-ups down by the canal the other week. The questions might be awkward.”
Fulton’s eyes gleamed. “’Awkward’? You don’t know awkward, inspector. I promise, you don’t know awkward.”
Lomond chuckled. “I know awkward, alright. Awkward is having to explain to a mother that you can’t do anything about the person responsible for murdering her son. I’ve had to do it before. Once is enough.”
Fulton shrugged. “Happens every day. I’ll be seeing you, inspector.”
Lomond took a card from his wallet. “Give me a call if anything jogs your memory about last Saturday. A name and a face, Edward. That’s what I’m asking you for.”
Fulton ignored the card. “You always were a dreamer, Lommie. You’re still that daft wee boy I ran about with. Knights and castles. Dragons and maidens. Heroes and villains. When did you move onto cops and robbers? I know you, mate. I remember you well.”
Lomond nodded. “I hope so. I remember you, too. But please remember you owe me, Edward. A name and a face, that’s all I want.”
Fulton said nothing. He strode off down the road, back in the direction of the pub. The boys in the bus shelter seemed to shy away from him, like insects scattering from a lifted stone.
It was strange, Lomond thought, that pathology labs were such clean, white spaces. Not exactly warm or welcoming, but well-lit, logical with good clean lines. How paradoxical that the things they looked at in here were a contravention of this working homage to order, sterility and flat planes.
The box was still intact, the packaging unfolded out in four neat rectangles. The stink of old blood was immediately apparent, the tang of incipient decay a little less distinct.
“A while since we were sent something in the post,” McCandless, the pathologist said. “Named him yet?”
“Jackie McDougal,” Lomond said. “When would you say death took place? Tuesday evening?”
“Something like that,” McCandless said, washing his hands. “How did you know?”
“Just a hunch.” Lomond took a deep breath, and had a look.
The cut had followed the blue dotted line, more or less, though it was hardly a surgical effort. The eyes were, mercifully, obscured by a piece of paper stuck to the fishbelly-white forehead beneath a scarred close-cropped scalp. A message was scored on the piece of paper in thick black marker: “HERE’S YOUR FACE.”
Copyright (c) Pat Black 2015