(The first chapter introduces the main characters in Glasgow element of the book.)
Mick Hastings was almost impressed when he looked at the body. It nearly made up for his irritation at being called out for a serious assault fifteen minutes before he went off duty. The unfortunate victim looked as if he was simply lying at rest, yet he was almost certainly dead. The constable had told him as much when he arrived. This victim looked a bit different, a bit better dressed, better fed than the usual battered, ventilated, blood soaked stiffs that were Glasgow’s stock in trade stabbing victim. The narrow lane, where the body lay, was an unexceptional one of the many dozens of lanes and streets that criss-crossed the grid pattern of the city centre. The area was well organised by the time Hastings had turned up. Blue police tape marked off the area and a couple of officers made sure that any curious members of the public were quickly moved on. He went in search of the reporting officer, found him, and introduced himself.
“Hi. I’m Detective Mick Hastings, I was told it was a serious assault but it looks a bit worse than that.”
“I phoned an ambulance right away and tried to give First Aid but I’m pretty sure he’s a goner, sir.”
“I think you’re right there. Did you get here first?”
“Better than that. I was just passing the lane when this lad came dashing out, seen me, and ran like hell up Bath Street. I looked into the lane and saw the body and the blood lying everywhere. My first instinct was to look after the victim, but I think it was too late even then. Still, it might be a good idea to have a look at the next lane up the street, if you don’t mind me giving advice, sir. I’m not sure but I think he dived into the first lane on the right. Haven’t had time to look myself. Might have dropped the weapon or something.” Hastings looked carefully from the body to the lane entrance, nothing obvious lying around.
“No, no I don’t mind you giving me advice,” he said almost absent mindedly, “and you could be right. I’ll take a walk up there now, back in a few minutes.”
He knew from experience that the chance of finding a clue or a murder weapon diminished rapidly almost from the moment of the crime. He moved quickly up the busy sun-lit street, there was another slightly wider lane twenty yards further up. There was a bit more clutter here, boxes, dust bins, some rubbish bags. The lane, made dim by the surrounding buildings, was straight and downwards for about 15 or 20 paces, then turned sharp left for a slightly longer distance before exiting through a narrow close into Renfield Street. This, considered Hastings after walking the length of the lane, might be promising. He returned back to the opening and paused trying to put his mind into the head of the murderer, if indeed the runner was the perpetrator. Could be that it was an ordinary Joe who discovered the body and took flight – not always an unusual occurrence. Anyway, he thought, let’s assume this guy was the assailant. He would have been anxious to get rid of the weapon; even seasoned professionals get spooked when they see the law so soon after a crime, they rarely believe in the miracle of coincidence. He started to walk back up the lane. He got lucky and spotted the handle within minutes; it was jammed between the bin and the wall just where the lane turned to the left. As he pulled back the bin the weapon clattered onto the ground. Hastings gave an impressed silent whistle. He looked at what he knew must have been the murder weapon; this was no kitchen knife, the handle was a beautifully turned piece of mahogany finished in polished brass. The blade, if it could be called a blade, was a four inch long silver metallic rod turned and shaped to a deadly point. He walked quickly back to the entrance and signalled to one of the beat constables standing on the main street. The policeman hurried over.
“Do me a favour. Guard this entrance for a few minutes I think I’ve found the murder weapon. I’ll send someone down in a few minutes to bag it.”
Things had moved on apace, in even the short time he was gone. A forensic tent was already being set up as he approached the scene. He spoke to the lead officer and informed him of the weapon. A member of the team was dispatched right away.
“By the way, Detective Inspector McKinney of Central Division is on his way over, I think he’ll probably be the investigating officer.”
“That’s okay. I’ll hang about till he turns up.”
Hastings now turned his attention to the victim. A slightly portly man in his mid forties lay face up on the cobbled lane. Mick was struck by the neat and expensive clothes on the body. A cashmere Crombie overcoat covered a light weight grey Canali suit – both were lying open, exposing a white shirt with a faint pink pinstripe, below the shirt pocket was a neat hole oozing blood. For a brief moment he though it must surely have been a small calibre bullet that killed him, but using a pencil he exposed the shirt further and looking closer he could see that the hole was neat and without a burn mark, the wound tied in with the weapon he had found. He also pondered the fact that the man had died surprisingly quickly, but then again, given the victim’s age and the position of the wound, perhaps not. He felt the victim’s face was vaguely familiar, not in some sort of famous way, but almost casual, like someone you know quite well but you come across in unusual surroundings like, say, a barman you unexpectedly met in a bank or someone you know vaguely from work suddenly appearing in different town. He was about to turn round when he heard a soft tinkle, like a piece of metal, a coin falling perhaps. Bending forward he noticed a glint between the cobbles. Hastings lifted it, turning it in his hand. It looked like an old sovereign of some sort. He idly pondered the significance of the coin for a few moments. He looked around, the officers in the lane were busy putting up tape and still trying to shoo away the inquisitive pedestrians – no one was taking a blind bit of notice of him as he tried to catch someone’s eye for an evidence bag. Hastings was as straight as they come and was a stickler for procedure, but something about this victim made him curious. He made his decision without too much thought and popped the coin into his jacket pocket; he would hand it over to McKinney later.
Des Capaldi often wondered why he bothered analysing his route to town –over the Glasgow Bridge or over the suspension bridge? The suspension bridge was slightly nearer and quicker. It was nicknamed the Toll Bridge by the locals as one was inevitably pestered by the homeless jakies that mooched around its northern end. They were mostly harmless and they were remarkably and entertainingly innovative, keenly attuned to any new development in the art of begging. The latest scam had included the acquisition of a skinny, mangy, Jack Russell type mongrel with a string lead that sprawled sad-faced next to the lucky recipient of the day. For sometime the dog had prowled the south bank of the river in the morning where he found an endless supply of half eaten hamburgers and sausage suppers. For sport he raced after seagulls and snapped playfully at the tail feathers of the fat pigeon that roosted in the low branches of the horse chestnut tree and then, when bored with that, he would take to crouching like a tiger in the long grass to await any squirrel that wandered within pouncing distance – but the squirrels were always too smart and too fast. Recently the dog’s afternoons were spent loafing around the bridge with the down and outs that hung about the archway on the North side. Des had observed this phenomenon with half an eye and he occasionally turned it over in his mind. God only knows what possessed the dog to throw his lot in with a bunch of beggars and shiftless drifters. Perhaps, Des had concluded, the dog was happy and content there – felt part of the gang – loved and wanted, a place where he was fussed over and patted and spoiled: maybe to be tied up occasionally with a mangy piece of string and lie around looking forlorn was a small price to pay.
In any event, he made no conscious decision and found his feet carrying him over the Glasgow Bridge and into Union Street. It had been a long, busy day, for a Friday. He had worked that morning and most of the afternoon for a popular free sheet as a freelance sub editor. He had many contacts in the Press and was often called in at short notice for absences. It paid well. When not employed by the mainstream press he spent the rest of the time writing up commissioned articles for a variety of Sunday and weekly magazines. Music gigs, museum exhibits, trial reports, general bits and pieces usually anonymously, although he did get the occasional by-line. He also had a talent for decent photography, mainly sporting events but not averse to the odd spot of paparazzi work if anyone of any note happened to be in town.
He ambled along Union Street in the bright evening sunshine; it was just after five thirty. He liked the City at this time of evening, in fact, he reckoned, Glasgow was a ‘tea time’ kind of place, a time where the bars and restaurants were busy but not overwhelmed and the crowds were good natured and happy, particularly on a Friday night. Later towards ten or eleven the atmosphere became at bit more downbeat with aggressive acne faced youngsters beginning to prowl and crowd the streets looking for nightclubs and other haunts of the demimonde. He walked passed Central Station and popped into the nearby dispensing chemist to say hello to Julie. They usually met at the end of her shift at six. She was there, very busy but still managed a quick, cheery wave.
“See you later,” she mouthed, and pointed to the clock and held up seven fingers. Finished at seven. It happened occasionally. Des gave her a sympathetic shoulder shrug and thumbs up. He would come back later to meet her and walk her home. In the mean time he was quite comfortable with having a bit of time to spare. He could visit a few bars, have couple of drinks, read the paper and chat to whatever mates he may bump into. He was on his way up Union Street to The Scriveners, a well know haunt of press staff and printers when his mobile phone rang. He stopped and stood in a doorway – he hated walking around with a phone at his ear. His phone screen showed Mick Hastings.
“Hi Mick, what’s up?
“Hi … Just got called out to a stabbing…”
“No, No wait a minute. This could be interesting. Where are you now? You’re usually knocking around town at this time of day.”
“Union Street, just before the Central station.”
“Jez, man you practically there, couldn’t be better. Walk up to the corner of Drury Street and I’ll catch you there in about two or thee minutes, cheers.”
Des carried on walking, street murders didn’t interest him that much, they were depressingly similar with both perpetrator and victim being virtually interchangeable. However he and Hastings went back a while and he had always been a good reliable source and knew Mick only phoned when he had something that might be a bit unusual. They met in the sixth year class in Holyrood, the largest and most popular secondary school in the south side of Glasgow. Des attended a private school for the five years, where he did rather well but didn’t fancy going to college so young so, he like many before him, completed his education, at no cost, in a well established local school
“School,” said his father, “is not about education son, it’s about making contacts, networking as you guys call it now a days.”
Des always nodded his head sagely, he never took a blind bit of notice of his dad’s cracker barrel philosophical bon mots. As long as he was having a good time, made friends and could keep up with the work – who cared? Des and Mick weren’t that close at school but they played football, played golf, drank and socialised with the same crowd over the past fifteen years. Their relationship was straightforward, they rarely made arrangements to meet but if they met in the pub they were glad to see each other: both used each other without guilt, there was none of the ‘I owe you one’ mentality involved that poisoned other professional relationships.
Des reached the murder scene in a couple of minutes and was showing his press card to one of the officers when Mick called over.
“He’s OK, I know him.”
“So Mick, another senseless frenzied stabbing in the mean street of …..”
“Quiet a minute Des, over here.”
Des ambled over to the body.
“Ho man! – Cool threads, as they say in Miami.”
“Take a closer look, does he look familiar?”
Des was about to shake his head when he hesitated, the face did look familiar. “Maybe he does… listen can I take a photo. I’ve got a compact digital here- no flash. We can look at it later.”
Mick looked around … “Okay Des, but hurry up, I’ll stand in front.”
Mick was getting slightly worried. He was beginning to break a couple of his own basic ground rules here. Des leaned over and took three photos in almost as many seconds and, as he said, no flash.
“Right Des. Look I’ll need to see who’s on the murder squad, probably McKinney, and hand the case over to him. Anyway my shifts about finished. I can meet you in, say, ten minutes.”
“Okay doaky, where?”
“See you in the Black Dog,” he said over his shoulder as walked to the knot of police officers at the lane entrance.
Des groaned inwardly as he turned and walked across Renfield Street and into Drury Street towards the Black Dog. The Black Dog, he knew, was a pub with pretensions. It had a baby grand in the corner with a typical lounge lizard singer who thought he was part of the Rat Pack. Fortunately for the customers the arrangement was badly amplified – no one complained. The singer had just finished ‘Fly me to the Moon’ and was about to segue into ‘Mona Lisa’. Or was it the other way round? thought Des ten seconds later. He looked briefly and cynically at the overpriced ‘cocktail’ board, ordered a couple of beers and took a seat furthest away from the piano. He amused himself by reading the dinner menu and looking at the camera screen until Mick showed up a few minutes later.
“How are the photos?” Mick asked as he sat down.
“Not bad at all, all things considered.”
Mick flicked through the three photos in the memory.
“I’m impressed, crystal clear, any ideas yet?”
“Like you said, remarkably familiar.”
“I think he looks about forty odd so he’s older than us,” said Mick. “Yet get the feeling I’ve met him somewhere, you know, at a party or something. There something else… this was in his hand.”
Mick showed him the sovereign. Des turned it over in his hand, showing exaggerated shock.
“Hope you’re not thinking of keeping this.”
“No chance!” he laughed “I’ll hand it in to McKinney tomorrow. I forgot I had it. I don’t know why I kept it, it just seemed odd at the time.”
Des turned over in his hand.
“Gold sovereign, George the fifth – and in really good nick too.”
“Hard to say how much it’s worth. Mint condition, new ones are usually in more demand. These kind are usually jazzed up into sovereign rings much beloved of the local neds and medallion man brigade, I’ve seen loads of them. About two hundred quid for your average sovereign. People think they’re worth much more, but these coins were produced by the million at the time.
“I think he must have had it his hand when he was knifed.”
“So, a straight forward robbery then.”
“Probably. Anyway, you’ve got some copy for the morning papers, let’s leave it at that, and don’t mention the coin in the story.”
“As if,” snorted Des. “Anyway, so how’s it going? Haven’t seen you for a few months.”
They fell into a casual good-natured conversion, talking about their latest golf exploits and generally gossiping of this and that. Des was just thinking of heading off to pick up Julie when the singer in the corner had just begun to snap his fingers to the opening bars of ‘High Hopes’.
“That’s it. I’m out of here,” said Des rising from his seat.
“If I can think of anything, I’ll give you a ring later on, if you’re still about,” he said as they parted on the street.
“Sure,” said Mick “I might go for a beer about ten but I’ll be at home till then.”
They relaxed in the flat; Julie had a hot shower while Des tidied up and began fixing dinner. While eating they talked idly of their day and looked forward to their day off tomorrow.
“By the way,” said Des just as they were about to clear away the table. “I met Mick Hastings after I left your work, gave me a ring about a local murder. I took some photographs of the murder victim.”
“Very nice, I’m sure.”
Des took the camera out of the case
“Yes, yes I know. But Mick and I thought he looked familiar and I thought it might be someone we both know. It might ring a bell with you – you’re pretty good at putting names to faces and I know you’ll be discreet.”
“Mm – don’t know, I’m not good at dead bodies.”
“Don’t worry, they’re not gruesome, have a seat for a minute and see what you think.”
Des opened up the viewer, selected the best angle and handed it to Julie.
She looked at the first photo and sat up sharp.
“My God! That’s my cousin – Hughie Toner,” she said.