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Snow Storm

Snow Storm


    Jim Burke is under pressure. About to hit the half-way point in his three score years and ten and about to be someone’s dad, he’s struggling to balance life with work and a worsening red bull and e-cigarette habit. He’s got a lot more going on than anyone really knows, including himself.
    It doesn’t help when there seems to be a sudden drug war with a mounting body count and you’re the Detective Inspector on the case.
    Victor wants to be a one stop sin shop. He’ll sell you everything you ever wanted, and a whole lot more you didn’t. The Russian Mafia isn’t what it was though. You just can’t get the staff these days.
    A small Scottish town has received a big investment from an offshore holding company. But what are the new owners of the old military base up to? Andy and his mates thought they’d have a laugh finding out. They might have bitten off a little more than they can chew.
    Snow Storm is a crime novel with a dark comic edge, set across the backdrops of Edinburgh and Galloway.

Robert M. G. Parker SNOW STORM


    Firstly I’d like to thank my wife Caroline, who not only puts up with me on a daily basis but managed to see me through the writing of this novel. Why she does all this, I’ll never know, but I’m quietly grateful.
    I’d like to thank my mum for at different times nagging, cajoling and persuading me into getting on with it. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I’d also like to thank Monica for the same, and for editing and proofreading this, without which, it’s doubtful anyone would be able to make sense of it.
    Thank you to my friends and family and to my esteemed colleagues, the fraud crew, without whose ridicule and bad chat on a daily basis I might get ideas above my station.
    It feels good to cross the finish line.


    “You must have known this couldn’t go on forever.”
    It was true. Deep down the feeling had been there all along; the knowing that all good runs must come to an end. But not like this. Even in his worst imaginings he hadn’t pictured this, hadn’t accepted the possibility if he was honest, not even now.
    “Did you think I would just let this go on? Let you carry on with your games, let you desecrate what was mine?”
    He had.
    “It’s all about one of the fundamental laws of the universe you see. Every action, no matter how small, has an equal and opposite reaction. That’s how it works, and yet you somehow thought you could, what, circumvent physics, avoid paying the piper? Thought you could just keep taking without giving back? It doesn’t work like that.” The figure glowed in the firelight, a demonic presence, taunting him, the grin turning up at one corner of the mouth more than the other. Twisted. Sneering. The features flickered as the flames rose. If only it was just an apparition, a hallucination, some kind of nightmare he could wake from.
    He saw the glint before he realised what it was, considered it with only child like curiosity before it dawned on him with its full consequences.
    “You are the devil,” he said, without realising.
    His captor laughed manically, throwing his head back. “No, not quite,” he said as he approached, the sneer returning to his face, “but you can say hello to him for me.”
    The pain did not register at first. Not until he knew what was happening. And then, it was all there was.


    They were having the discussion they normally did on a Monday morning, despite this being Friday; the one about avoiding the bumps on the road. It didn’t help that his head hurt more whenever she drove over one of the many potholes Edinburgh City Council had seen fit to nurture while ploughing their resources into their bottomless money pit of a tram system. It was the discussion that revolved around the consequences of hitting every drain cover and blemish on the road, the damage to the cars tracking, the resulting tyre wear and the unshakeable feeling he had regarding the likelihood the bottom was about to fall out of the world while they simultaneously expired in a ball of fire.
    He was a defeatist. He’d long since given in to that.
    They bounced and chicaned their way down the hill and onto Carrington Road, pulling in between the Lothian and Borders Police Headquarters, the Hogwarts-esque Fettes College and the determinedly modern Broughton High School.
    “Ah well, time for my morning exercise” he groaned, as he prepared to exit for his hike across the park to work. He kissed her on the cheek to avoid the lip balms stickiness and she laughed and pretended to fan away last night’s alcohol fumes.
    He opened the door and caught site of a plastic sports bag hanging by its strings from a lamp post.
    “Do you think there’s a head in there?” he asked her.
    “You’re a sick man” she replied and shook her head again as he walked away.
    By Monday morning it was still there. By Tuesday his curiosity got the better of him and he had to have a look.
    He would spend years wishing he hadn’t.
* * *
    Burke got the call just after eight, after a fitful night’s sleep on account of Rachel’s tossing and turning with the bump. He was in the middle of a delicate operation, trying to extricate some toast from the toaster using a butter knife. If the toaster wiped him out she would simply view it as an acceptable loss in the larger picture, which at this stage was dominated by a craving she had for sardines on toast. Pregnancy had exposed her ruthless streak.
    At first he thought the dispatcher was joking. Then he remembered the time of year. Of course, the festive season could always be relied upon to bring out a nutter with a chip on their shoulder or just a desperate need for attention.
    He made Rachel’s breakfast then headed across town to the scene of crime.
    Uniform had already cordoned off Carrington Road and both schools staff were in the process of sending any early arriving kids home. A tent had been set up around the lamp post where a nosey passer-by had discovered the contents of the bag and subsequently dropped them unceremoniously on the pavement making a bit of a mess. For this reason he’d opted to wear his second favourite boots.
    The SOC team, along with some lucky officers had been drafted in and were combing the area for evidence.
    Burke showed his warrant card to the uniformed foetus standing by the tent and entered, rousing Dr Brown from his intense scowling at the battered looking somewhat smelly decapitated head of a middle aged man which had come to a halt face down on the pavement. Various fluids seemed to ooze from what looked a lot like an Edinburgh Marathon finishers’ goodie bag.
    “Jim,” was all the coroner said, before resuming his contemplative pose, like a craggy faced Scottish version of Rodin’s Thinker with less hair, more gut and a redness of face only a love of good wine could provide.
    “Any idea as to the cause of death?” Burke asked.
    “Well the milder weather of the last couple of days and the resulting thaw meant that he was in a bag of his own decomposing bodily fluids so drowning is a possibility,” came the reply. “Though in all seriousness it looks like he was probably dead before they hacked him up. We’ll know more once I’ve had a closer look back on the slab.”
    “Look familiar in any way? Anything you’ve seen like this before?”
    “Nope. Clearly a statement if ever I saw one though.”
    “Any ideas as to the time of death?” Burke asked feeling like it was a long shot.
    “Well the change in weather allows for more of a margin of error but a head in this condition, temperature below zero, four days,” Brown replied without batting an eyelid.
    “How do you know that?” Burke scoffed.
    “There are body parts in body farms in the most unlikely places just decomposing away and all so I can tell you it’s been four days. You don’t automatically end up in a lecture theatre when you donate yourself these days Jim.”
    “Noted,” Burke replied, suppressing the urge the farmer’s son in him had to ask if there were diversification grants available for that sort of thing.
    He made his way to the station in Gayfield Square, succumbing to the urge to pick up a triple espresso and a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. After destroying that, he fired up the e-cigarette Rachel had given him -or rather forced on him- inhaling the clinically clean vapours and the accompanying sense of hollow disappointment at the lack of burning in the back of his throat. Then he polished off a crème egg. Nothing was ever enough anymore.
    This development was frustrating. He could feel a migraine starting to take shape at the corner of his left eye.
* * *
    The phone rang, disturbing Petr as he made coffee. He wasn’t one of life’s multi-taskers and resented the interruption to his routine. The boss must still be in the shower, unable to answer, no surprise given last night’s session and the fact he’d taken enough hard liquor to put a rocket in orbit.
    The caller had an accent corrupted by time spent in the west and announced himself vaguely as Oleg. He didn’t try to keep abreast of the boss’s contacts, didn’t really care as long as the money kept rolling in and if he thought about it, didn’t really want to know.
    The boss looked like a man with heavy cares these days. Just went to show, money wasn’t everything.
    He climbed the marble staircase and made his way through the gold encrusted master suite, taking care to knock on the en-suites door and wait for the customary “yes!” that indicated his employer wasn’t in too compromising a state, and entered.
    The boss stood in the middle of the tiled floor engulfed in steam, a normal size bath towel barely concealing vast rolls of flab. Petr had long suspected he would one day meet his end at the point of a harpoon.
    The hooded bloodshot eyes glowered questioningly and Petr handed over the phone.
    “Oleg” was all he said as the boss nodded in knowing appreciation.
    As he exited he heard some mumblings followed by an almighty high-pitched crash. He turned to see the cause was the crystal bowl that normally housed the bath oils making sudden contact with the mirror and the glass sink below.
    The boss looked at him and shrugged breathing heavily. “Clear this up if you would. Oh and pack a bag. I’m leaving for Edinburgh at noon.”
    Petr sighed. It seemed nobody cared for his routine this morning.
* * *
    Burke knocked on the DCI’s door and upon hearing the entry granted grunt made his way inside. DCI Gray sat at his institutional MDF desk surrounded by institutional MDF shelves containing his various institutional trinkets; the pictures of the kids, a golfing trophy, a suspiciously masonic looking plaque commending him for something or other and a photo of him with Teenie and Tynie the Hearts mascot tigers.
    Gray focussed on the wide screen in front of him and motioned for Burke to take a seat, his eyes never leaving the display as he worked the mouse back and forth irritably. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this is a right royal pain in the arse Jim,” he said, finally giving him a cursory look in the eye before flitting his gaze back to the screen.
    “No sir. Potential nightmare,” was all Burke could come up with.
    “There’s nothing on any of the press sites so far but there have been phone calls and not just from the press.”
    “I see.”
    “Ah but you don’t. Obviously there is the fact this happened right under our noses, right outside headquarters and right next to two schools. That’s bad enough once it hits the press but the real kicker is the fact the Divisional Commander’s kids just happen to be Fettes students. Fan-fucking-tastic. So he’s undoubtedly getting grief from that lawyer missus of his who just happens to be on the board of governors and of course the kicks are getting fed back down the line.” He stopped, took off his thick framed specs and began rubbing his temples. “December: it’s bad enough I have to try and get my hands on this tablet my son wants that nobody seems to have. Have we got any leads?”
    “None so far sir.”
    “And the guy who found the head?”
    “Looks like just a passer-by who got nosey. He was too freaked out to get a proper statement according to the guys on the ground at the time. I’ll try to speak to him later on today.”
    “Ok.” Gray nodded to himself. “Going forward I want you to keep me in the loop as and when developments occur. I really feel like I’m fire-fighting here with the media and everything else. It’s important we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet. Right?”
    “Right,” Burke confirmed, wondering at the same time precisely what it was he’d agreed to.
    He made his way back to his desk and found he had two missed calls, one from Rachel asking him to pick up some milk on the way home as she had acquired a craving for macaroni and cheese and another from Dr Brown asking him to call back.
    He called Brown back first, telling himself not to hope too much. It rang out as it always seemed to when he thought about it too much so he picked up a copy of The Metro and had a quick look at the stories of the day. They predicted a big freeze which under further scrutiny wasn’t exactly all the story it was billed as, with the met office predicting temperatures may well drop as low as minus five. Strange that such a thing could happen in winter. Slow news day. Tomorrow wouldn’t be. He booted up his PC and had a look at the BBC and Sky News web sites. He went on the theory that somewhere in between these two lay the truth. Again, nothing eventful was happening in the world at large. He was just about to start a Sudoku puzzle when the phone rang. It wasn’t a number he recognised but it was an Edinburgh land line.
    “Ah Jim.” It was Brown, instantaneously recognisable for being the only person Burke knew who seemed able to snore and talk at the same time.
    “Doc, what’s the latest?” he asked holding his breath.
    “Well it would appear it was actually a case of off with his head.”
    “That doesn’t sound fun.”
    “No, not my idea of a good time either but it doesn’t look like he’d have known much about it. There doesn’t seem to have been too much movement involved. Whoever did the chopping had a good go at it with a non-struggling target which it looks like they would have needed under the circumstances.”
    “How so?”
    “Well rather than cutting at the neck with a sharp blade hostage execution video style or using a chainsaw, they appear to have used something a bit heavier. Judging by the number of cuts and the thickness of the blade I’d say a machete rather than a cleaver, something longer, but rounder at the end so he couldn’t get a square cut and had to hack at the loose skin on the exit side of the neck several times.”
    “Indeed. Other than that I’d say between 45 and 50, probably obese judging by the subcutaneous fat levels on the jowls alone, heavy smoker and drinker going on the stained teeth, and the fatty build-up in the carotid arteries along with the broken veins around the face. He was also fond of cocaine it seems. His nose and in particular septum show signs of the kind of degeneration associated with that particular hobby.
    “We’re looking at the missing persons register but obviously there are a few missing middle aged men, although none in the past three weeks. Doesn’t exactly sound like he was living rough or on the run though.”
    “No. If anything I would say he was living a bit too well.”
    “Anything else?”
    “Well, there is one other point. Pink tooth.”
    “Pink tooth?”
    “Yes. It has been known to turn up in autopsies or in this case partial autopsies before, notably following the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004. However in this case only one tooth was affected.”
    “Interesting. Meaning?”
    “It can happen as a result of an in injection of Arsenic Trioxide into the root pulp of a tooth prior to root canal surgery.”
    Burke realised he was rubbing his jaw at this point, the memory of a recent root canal treatment still a bit too raw. “I suppose we’ll be cross referencing dental records anyway.”
    “Ah yes, but in this case, should you draw a blank, they don’t use this procedure anymore. It had a tendency to cause Periodontal Tissue Necrosis and it was linked to Osteomyelitis.”
    “I see.” Burke said trying to second guess the good doctor and failing miserably.
    “My point is it was only ever in common use in the former Soviet Bloc.”
    Burke was now very awake and it wasn’t the espresso.


    As he woke he realised he couldn’t move. He struggled against it but something restrained him at the feet and the wrists, even, could it be, the neck?
    He could remember the pub, the drinks. Most of them he’d chucked aside or hidden when no one was looking. So why was his head so fuzzy? He’d met… but that couldn’t be right, could it?
    There was a lot of background noise, loud metallic banging and heavy machinery. He must be on an industrial estate. Had somebody spiked him? Was that it?
    “Ah, back in the land of the living,” boomed a voice behind him, causing his heart to pound. “I’m impressed. You do seem to have a high tolerance for your tranquilisers. But then I seem to remember you always did.”
    It was. How could this be possible? And why?
    “What is this?” His words were slurred - the effects of whatever chemical was doping his system. “Why?”
    “For the greater good I’m afraid.”
    “You got in the way, that’s all. Don’t think of it as personal. This is merely a business transaction and you unfortunately are collateral damage. You of all people should understand that.”
    “I know. You explained it all in great detail last night. I don’t expect you’ll remember, but, well, I felt I owed you something of an explanation at least. You may not be able to see the bigger picture but you do have the consolation of knowing it wasn’t entirely your own fault and really there was nothing you could have done.”
    He struggled, pulling at his restraints trying to get free, knowing it was a futile gesture. Instinct drove him to it even though he knew there was no way out.
    “And so to business I’m afraid. This shouldn’t hurt as such and I’m reliably informed it should at least be quick.”
    “You can’t,” he shouted, feeling the anger and rise now. “You know they’ll come for you.”
    “Oh quite. In fact I would go so far as to say I’m counting on that.”
    He felt the tightening round his neck, slowly at first and then all at once. He kicked with legs that wouldn’t move and screamed with a voice that wasn’t there.
* * *
    The county buildings were cold. The draft drove a constant circulation of damp December air round the ancient stairs and upwards, permeating the building as a whole. They were in the function room next to the kitchen on the first floor, where the mock châteaux’s high windows looked out over the town’s festively lit gardens and the Mercat Cross.
    This particular meeting of the community council had been convened for over an hour and they had so far only managed to wrangle over the placement of double yellow lines down one of the side streets. One faction’s opinion was that they were needed as sometimes it was an outright struggle to get past something parked in the lane and this could cause delays.
    “Delays in what?” someone had asked. This was Wigtown after all. If you wanted to be in a hurry you’d picked the wrong place to live. There were choruses of approval from others at this.
    Why was it, someone else asked, that certain residents of the town wished to stay so firmly in the dark ages? It was all very well having the scenery and living in a remote corner, but why did it have to come at the cost of progress?
    Eventually the matter was drawn to a close or some kind of stalemate and the meeting moved on to the latest applications for planning consents to build wind turbines and the evil inefficient overrated view polluters or environmental saviours they were, depending on the various stand points.
    After they had ploughed through this and most had lost the will to live, the man in the pin striped suit was introduced, though the nature of his visit had been a subject many pondered during the preceding discussions, owing to the fact that his carefully thought out getup had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
    He was announced as Giles Herriot-Watt of the law firm Farquhar and Donaldson in Edinburgh and duly stood to address the room.
    “Good evening,” he began, in an accent that seemed stuck somewhere between Edinburgh, the Home Counties and San Francisco. “I represent a company called Brentwood which as many of you may be aware, has recently made a significant commitment to investing in this area in purchasing the industrial complex at Baldoon.”
    There were nods of approval round the room. This being a small town in a sparsely populated area, everyone knew the land round Baldoon had transferred hands recently and there had been a fair bit of discussion of it around the town, mainly from farmers worried about the cost of the feed they bought there sky rocketing along with every other overhead. There were even rumours about a factory and the jobs it might bring to the area.
    “And to that end,” the suit continued “as a gesture of good will and a sign of my clients long term commitment to their partnership with this area I have been asked to set up a scholarship fund for the town, helping gifted students to cope with the high cost of uprooting themselves to study in areas where, let’s face it, the cost of living may be somewhat prohibitive.”
    Another chorus of nods from the heads in the room followed by a slow growing round of applause.
    “My clients have also asked to remind everyone that it is imperative they retain a modicum of privacy in their operations at Baldoon. Some of the development work being undertaken in the complex is of a sensitive nature and as such could be prone to acts of industrial espionage. This is a matter my clients take very seriously and as such they are willing to offer a reward to anyone reporting any information relating to such activities.”
    This time the nods were more confused and disjointed, as was the round of applause.
    With that he thanked them for their time and made a sharp exit.
    Tongues were not long in starting to wag.
* * *
    Burke was woken by the phone at around five, having been battered yet again by the other half’s restless feet. He’d tried to relax as much as possible, continuing his way through a Battle Star Galactica box-set – the original 1978 series not the new version, which despite the hype, he hadn’t yet found time to digest. He couldn’t see how they could top the original, with Lorne Green post Bonanza and Dirk Benedict before The A-team. They’d even cheekily put a Cylon Robot in the opening sequence to The A-team for Benedict to shoot a look of vague recognition at.
    Rachel didn’t approve of this particular fetish. She continued looking at Baby Gap online, save for the odd troubled glance over the top of her specs. She later explained that she’d been watching him as he took turns at smoking his e-fag and practising shuffling cards in ever more elaborate fashions. She wished he would learn how to relax.
    He told her not to worry as he picked up a copy of a John Belushi biography in an effort to read himself into rapid eye movement.
    Sleep eventually did find him and he drifted into a dream where a plague swept through the city turning everyone it touched into zombies. There was a cure, a pill you could take but it was only available in a hospital that looked suspiciously like the security queue at Edinburgh airport. He waited for what seemed like forever driven mad by the screams of a small child behind but when he looked there was no one there. After a wait that seemed unending he arrived at a security gate and tried to go through but froze as a strangely familiar bell went off.
    He woke with a start when he realised it was the phone ringing and dived across the bed as Rachel rolled over threatening to wake up. The first instinct on being phoned at this time was to wonder if someone had died. In this case they had.
    “What the absolute fuck?” he asked in an outraged half-whisper before apologising to the despatcher on the end of the phone while she fumbled around wondering whether to respond to this particular question or not.
    He set the espresso machine off to make a triple while he staggered around trying to wedge himself into a pair of ever tightening jeans and narrowly missed smacking his head on one of the thick posts at the foot of the bed. He wondered if it was inappropriate, wearing a Thundercats t-shirt, albeit under a hooded top and a three quarter length jacket.
    The body had been found by revellers staggering home around an hour ago, left out in the open on waste ground.
    Western harbour had been built in the early 2000s in an effort to cash in on Leith’s up and coming status as the new place to be and develop the waterfront by ramming it full of glass and concrete. Unfortunately it seemed Leith was still up and coming and many of the flats were starting to look less than the stylish contemporary living spaces the estate agents liked to brand them.
    A recession and stalling recovery meant there was plenty of waste ground in the area and a surplus of now cheap accommodation readily available to whoever.
    Dr Brown had the honour of being on call again this morning and looked like he was somewhere else.
    The body lay face down on the broken concrete. From what Burke could see he was black, twenty-five to thirty-ish, tall, well-built and recently the victim of a fairly brutal strangling. The neck had a deep open wound running round its full circumference. Blood had congealed as it ran down the victim’s hooded top but notably not onto the concrete.
    “As you can no doubt see he’s been moved some time after death,” the Doctor said, confirming Burke’s suspicion. “Not that they’ve been overly concerned about hiding him.”
    “I’m starting to think bodies are like buses,” Burke said, trying to get a closer look at the face. “That’s a fairly serious cut.”
    “My guess would be some form of garrotte,” the Doctor replied. “Something like cheese wire.”
    “Must’ve stung a bit.”
    “Possibly not that much depending on how quickly they severed the carotid artery. More likely he bled to death than suffocated.”
    “Happy days. Any idea as to the time of death?”
    “Not more than three hours. A bit fresher than yesterday’s effort.”
    “You can say that again. Busy couple of days for you.”
    “Well it is the funeral season.”
    He made his way back to Gayfield Square, placed his head on folded arms and fell into unconsciousness for a solid hour.
    The cold woke him. He made another coffee and turned on his PC. He googled garrotting and was immediately given the dictionary definition along with a Wikipedia page dedicated to the subject and a series of black ink illustrations in the images section, their period indicating it was not exactly a popular pastime of late. Wikipedia seemed to think it was primarily an assassination weapon although it had been favoured by the Spaniards as an execution method for around seven hundred years or so. The Inquisition naturally featured in many of the illustrations.
    He found himself wondering about mechanics of it all; how it was possible to do that sort of damage to a neck without inadvertently severing a couple of your own fingers using cheese wire? You would probably have to wear gloves. Maybe that pointed to something professional. He knew from experience it was possible to slice up your fingers just trying to snap a piece of thread, though truth be told he knew from experience it was possible to do many seemingly innocuous things and injure yourself through sheer pathological clumsiness, like the time he’d stepped off a boat, forgetting it hadn’t yet docked and got up close and personal with the Irish Sea.
    He couldn’t find links to any particular organised crime persuasion that liked to use this method of dispatch but found a BBC news article about a study finding strangling was not usually linked to organised crime. No joy. He knocked his head slowly on the desk and then something caught his eye. He looked up to see a concerned looking DC Jones looking at him. She was back.
    “You ok boss?” she asked.
    “Fine,” he replied, unsure if you should invent some kind of reason or justification for effectively drumming your head of a desk -trying to get the circulation going on a cold morning maybe- and drawing a blank. “You?”
    “Good thanks, yeah,” she replied dumping a bag of what seemed to be everything on the floor and arranging an array of Danish pastries on her desk. She should really be fat he thought before remembering that people had said the same about him five years ago. They never appreciated their metabolic rate, the youth of the day.
    He watched out of the corner of his eye as she rearranged her desk, trying to marshal the brightly coloured picture frames and stationary into some kind of order before her day officially began, like some kind of modern superstition or maybe just a slight case of OCD. He himself had never been able to find a happy organisational medium and tended to go through phases at both ends of the spectrum, though as he grew longer in the tooth he suspected the slobby chaotic end of the spectrum was starting to look more like home.
    She was young and keen, still having the idea she could make a difference, not yet at the stage where she would become jaded. That came with time, along with the cynicism and the sensation of swimming through treacle.
    Slowly the office began to fill up and he felt like a little normality had resumed. The routine of this place, if nothing else, was a kind of constant, as much as it could be in this job.
    He’d arranged a briefing for nine thirty regarding yesterday’s bag of fun and would at least enjoy seeing their faces on breaking this latest development. Not that he had any reason to suspect they were connected.
    He commandeered a copy of The Metro in an effort to check the latest which was of course not a lot. Snow was still predicted and a debate raged as to whether this time the authorities were prepared. Ah the excitement. Why was it that these days he seemed to find everything the media said like some kind of Chinese water torture? It was always the same thing; over and over, repeat, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
    He wanted a break. Or did he? He wasn’t sure he knew what he wanted anymore.
    They convened in a meeting room, the temperature of which was always the subject of a debate but which was a welcome relief from the dose of the shivers he seemed to have acquired.
    Things started well enough, though there wasn’t a lot to go on the team were keen to get their teeth into this one.
    It seemed no one had seen anything of the bag prior to the discovery of its decomposing contents.
    “Any joy with CCTV?”
    “None boss,” DC Quinn replied in his thick Glaswegian accent. “There are obviously cameras on the roads either side and at the schools and HQ but none that actually focus on what’s happening on the street itself.”
    “Any way we could spot if anything took longer than expected from one end to the other?” Burke asked, knowing as he did that there was an additional problem.
    “I’d wondered that myself,” Quinn answered. “Problem is there’s a lot of parking there so there’s a potential for everything to be mis-timed. Someone parks for a bit, someone else dithers looking for a spot, that kind of thing.”
    “Joggers? Cyclists?”
    “Plenty but no-one with a sports bag like that, although most of them had rucksacks, commuters running to work that kind of thing.”
    “Ok. Go back through it. Check for anything that takes a bit longer. Possibly something that comes in out of sequence if you see what I mean, a car maybe comes in in front of another and exits behind it, anything we can go on.”
    Quinn started to scratch his nose either in nervousness or -more likely Burke thought- frustration as his cheeks turned slightly pink and he stared at his diary.
    “Ok, the witness?”
    “Nervous wreck boss, understandably,” DS McKay piped up, his voice a couple of octaves lower, doubtless from another night spent sinking a few. His eyes were heavily hooded under a mass of wrinkled bare scalp. “Seemed a harmless enough laddie, works as an accountant in Canonmills, walks through the park every morning to get there. He spotted it on Friday morning as you know and only checked it yesterday out of misguided curiosity.”
    “Could have been worse though,” snorted DC Campbell from the other side of the table. “Could have been a kid that found it. Should be strung up, the bastards that did it.”
    So Campbell was back too.
    “Possibly,” McKay carried on as Campbell folded his arms and shook his head in over hammed moral outrage. “Anyway getting back to the facts boss, he really didn’t have anything useful to add.”
    He then told them about the latest addition to their case load. A couple of them already knew. News travelled fast in the station. Murder still carried some currency despite the public perception of the crime levels sky rocketing in the city.
    He put this out there and left it hanging, gauging their different reactions, letting them run with it.
    Some thought nothing of it. “Coincidence” McKay said. “Sometimes you just get a rash of these things.”
    “It’s a revenge killing boss,” Campbell announced. “You know yourself, these flats are full of immigrants, Eastern Europeans. One of theirs gets popped or in this case carved up and they decide to take matters into their own hands. It’s like the wild west down there.”
    DC Jones snorted and shook her head.
    “What?” Campbell asked.
    “Been reading a bit too much Daily Mail again?”
    “I’m only telling it like it is down there. It’s all very well you telling me what I can and can’t say just cos you’ve done a degree in under water basket weaving for lesbians but this is a murder investigation.” Campbell replied, folding his arms and staring at the table in an instant sulk.
    “Ok, that’s the theory from the far right,” Burke interjected in an effort to dissolve the tension and get the discussion back on topic. “Any of you lily livered lefties want to throw something into the mix?”
    They didn’t. McKay and Quinn looked particularly puzzled. More fool him to put them on the spot.
    “In which case I vote we proceed as normal and treat these as two separate investigations and as mine is the casting vote, well, you get the picture. That said, as DC Campbell is so intent on chasing up his crack pipe theory…” He timed this so they would laugh. “I’ll indulge him in it for the rest of the morning. He can find out anything he can about garrottes and try to avoid going down the line of the Spanish Inquisition, much as I know he’d love it to be a Catholic conspiracy.” They laughed again at this and even Campbell grudgingly smiled, though Quinn and McKay still looked confused.
    “Any other business? Well, back to the grindstone I guess.”


    As the fourth generation to take the reins at the family firm, an old Etonian and recipient of The Law Award for Legal Personality of the Year 1992, Rupert James Farquhar the third always felt he knew a thing or two about duty. Responsibility for one’s position, the good name of the family and the firm was a heavy burden but one he and his forefathers had borne stoically through two world wars, a depression and a slow but steady erosion of the older better ways. Time was one knew one’s place in the world and accepted it with the good grace God or whoever ran the bigger picture intended.
    But times were changing. His son for instance did not inhabit the same world much less share the same values or even the traditional family Christian name.
    Sarah had of course insisted it was all old hat. No one was called Rupert anymore she had informed him. He’d wanted to insist, wanted to put his foot down but after 23 hours of labour he was just too tired to argue and relented. And so the boy was called James. It would prove to be the thin end of the wedge.
    In truth if he was properly honest with himself, and at a time like this he may as well, it had all begun and ended the night he met her. Right there and then he had lost every skirmish they would ever engage in during the war of attrition that was their marriage.
    It had been vanity all along he knew. He had ignored the advice of family and friends. He had allowed himself this error of judgement instead of listening to advice, his conscience or reason of any kind.
    He remembered the conversation with his brother now, just before he went to buy the ring. Miles had sat him down and over a large glass of 21 year old Macallan, extolled the virtues of the Volvo.
    “You see a Ferrari is a fine thing Rupe, no doubt about that. It looks good, dangerous curves and all that and it’ll give you a good kick when you’re seen out and about with it and you’ll feel like a hero when you’re getting to grips with it.” Miles gave his older brother a knowing look. It might have seemed strange to anyone else, taking advice from a younger brother but Miles was a man who seemed to have crammed more living into his 25 years than many did in 75 and so it was not uncommon. “Thing is, they’re not cheap to maintain. Matter of fact they can be outright dangerous in the wrong hands and there isn’t much room for anyone else. No, they’re a dammed liability Rupe. Now consider, if you will, the Volvo estate. I know. It’s hardly a glamorous statement. You didn’t have a poster of one on your wall as a nipper but at the same time it’ll look just grand down the golf club. It won’t break down every three weeks and your life will be a lot more comfortable. Got to think about these things Rupe.”
    “So Sarah’s the Ferrari is she?” he’d asked.
    “Eh? Good God no. Where did you get that from?” Miles had asked, winking over the top of his whiskey glass and lighting a roll up.
    Three days later Miles was killed in a head on collision with a lorry. A month after that Rupert proposed, shortly before buying a Volvo.
    She’d wanted everything, and so much of it. The problem was she didn’t have a clue as to the cost of anything. She was the daughter of a minor aristocrat; a failed artist who subscribed to the traditional theory that a gentleman does not know what is in his bank account and it seemed to be in the genes. She was incapable of any kind of pragmatism but he couldn’t ever give her up.
    His son of course did not go to Eton but was instead despatched to Fettes College in order to avoid cutting those golden apron strings. James’s tastes were equally expensive and Rupert found himself getting further and further off course, paying debts with worse ones, mortgaging the family pile and then doing it again knowing full well that one day soon he would have to quite literally pay the price.
    And then one day, staring into the abyss, on the brink of foreclosure and the end of everything he had ever known there it was; a shining beacon, the solution to all his problems.
    Farquhar and Donaldson had acquired a new client, one of epic stature. His dreams had come true it seemed. But as time would prove, these included his nightmares.
    As he walked through the woods on this December morning however, all seemed strangely well. The winter sun split the trees and the leaves crunched satisfyingly under his feet. The office would be opening up now and he would normally have been at his desk reading the times and drinking a Virgin Mary.
    He reached into his shooting bag and pulled out a length of rope, selected a fine stoical looking oak and in a dutiful orderly fashion with a minimum amount of fuss, hanged himself.
* * *
    Brown had called four times in the last hour. In the end he had relented, despite his predilection for avoiding answerphones at all costs and left a curt message requesting that Burke call him back at some stage. Burke rarely took these things personally when dealing with phones and the older generation despite his being of the take-things-personally persuasion.
    He’d been in a meeting for the last hour discussing training needs for his team. The force was putting a particular emphasis on diversity awareness this year, much like the year before and the year before that. He wondered why this was even an issue anymore. Surely people should be past all that. Surely society should have moved on and these things should come down to common decency and common sense. More water torture was all he needed. Then he thought about Campbell and wondered again.
    “As I thought, it was definitely some kind of garrotte. Stainless steel cheese wire is the most likely. Probably used without any supporting device though, not attached to a chair or anything. There’s too much trauma at the back of the neck. If a chair or similar device was used I’d have expected to see less there. That area would have been shielded by whatever they braced the wire against as they twisted it. Having said that the blood pattern suggests he was sitting or standing up as he bled out.”
    Burke nodded at the other end of the phone realising as he did that it was a pointless gesture.
    “He was a big chap, six three and wide too. No identification but his build would suggest he was of Afro-Caribbean descent. Other than that I’m not sure what to tell you. He was young so no glaringly obvious signs of wear and tear save for stained teeth which would suggest he liked to smoke but as to what he liked to smoke, as with our friend yesterday, we wait in anticipation of the tox screen.”
    “Any news on the other one?”
    “Not as yet I’m afraid. I’ll let you know when I do, assuming of course that I can get hold of you.”
    John Campbell came back after lunch like a dog with two tails. He hadn’t turned up any connection to the garrotte apart from saying that it had been used by the British Executive Service Overseas during the war which definitely seemed to make him proud. He produced a picture showing an example; a two foot piece of stainless steel wire with a four inch length of brass bar at each end serving as handles. It satisfied Burke’s curiosity as to the mechanics of the kill at least.
    “Thing is boss,” Campbell began, “while I couldn’t find any connection to any particular group for this, I did investigate curved blades a bit more.”
    Campbell pulled out a sheet of examples pointing to one in particular. “So there are a good few variations on the machete design but this one in particular, the panga machete or cutlass has a pretty serious curve to it.”
    “I know, you’re thinking what the hell, Pirates of the Caribbean, that kind of thing but you’re actually not far not far wrong. These things are most popular in the Caribbean and parts of Africa.”
    Burke nodded as he surveyed the blade. The swept up curve thickened towards the end before coming to a sharp point.
    Campbell smirked exposing a row of crooked teeth. “Kind of backs up my theory no?”
    Burke decided to put in a call to the Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency on a hunch and after two hours got call back from a DI Mike Edwards at the Drug Strategy Unit in Paisley.
    He explained the situation and Edwards listened with interest.
    “So what I wondered,” Burke concluded, “is if anyone might missing any ex Eastern Bloc players.”
    “Well seeing as you ask,” Edwards replied, “we have lost Vlad the Inhaler.”
* * *
    They had no respect, these kids; no idea of the trials they had sidestepped, the brutal apprenticeship they had bypassed by virtue of being born to a particular generation.
    Victor had to walk away from his luggage before the tall one; the one that looked like Lurch from The Adams Family on Prozac took the hint and picked it up. The short one seemed to be more interested in talking than anything else. They both knew he was just making noise in the hope something sensible would come out, trying to distract himself from jangling nerves. No strength of character.
    He’d grown used to having this effect on people. It hadn’t always been this way. He’d earned it, paid for it in pounds of flesh, albeit other people’s flesh, those who’d met their demise at his behest.
    What was this place? What kind of excuse was this for an international airport? He’d left home after noon, passing through a plush new terminal and arrived on the other side at this, a glorified goat shed. The west was on its knees, dying a slow lingering death.
    The small one asked him a question about something; some kind of mindless small talk. He chose to dismiss it with a look and the man averted his gaze to the floor like a scolded dog, doubtless inwardly cursing.
    They had brought a Mercedes four by four. Of course, why wouldn’t they? City cowboys; while they were swanning around the smooth city roads in something designed to tackle the Serengeti back home they were circumnavigating potholes the size of hot-tubs in battered saloons.
    He missed his Maybach and he wanted some drugs. The pain behind his eyes had started to intensify. Maybe it was the small talk but he had a feeling they didn’t need to say very much to communicate their uselessness. From an evolutionary point of view they were surplus to the requirements of the species.
    He checked his Blackberry. Nothing.
    There had been a time when it all meant something, before the money and the gadgets, the cars, the villas and the women who stayed the same age as he greyed and sagged.
    He’d been sent to the camp at fifteen. His excuse of a father had disowned him ten years before; some five years after his mother had died bringing him into the world. He’d been allowed to go feral, fallen in with the wrong crowd they said but the wrong crowd were at least something resembling family.
    He started from the bottom, took the beatings when required and grew into dishing them out when need be. He’d become numb to it at home. He managed to find his way to the fringes of various rackets and found himself a niche “acquiring” things to order; what little there was to acquire back then.
    They caught up with him eventually. He was no one and didn’t have the means to pay them off.
    But there it all began. Sent away for 7 years, he was baptised in fire and Siberian ice, and reborn.
* * *
    The press conference was a hastily cobbled together affair. Gray described it as an outreach, a term Burke was fairly certain he was trying to make catch on. The man himself gave off a sombre air, with plenty of implied annoyance at having to do this, though it was obvious to anyone with the mental capacity to breathe and stand upright at the same time that he was loving it. He just lived for moments like these. Probably paced round his room in the small hours addressing the assembled masses from his own private version of the world stage.
    Burke did not love it. Maybe it was a dim view of human nature brought about by too much time investigating the inherent flaws, but he got the sense the press were out for blood. He sat, sandwiched between Gray who proudly wore his best ill-fitting suit, and Superintendent Steele who was doing her best to look sombre, in tune with the mood of the day and not like someone who saw things largely in the form of figures and stats.
    “Is there any truth in the rumour that the two killings are connected?” asked an ageless hack who looked a lot like the crazy frog.
    “We’re keeping an open mind at this time,” Gray replied, looking to his superior for reassurance that this was what he was allowed to say. “Best to keep thinking outside the box.”
    Pity the head hadn’t been found in a box, Burke thought. That would have scuppered him. He couldn’t resist a smile at this but was woken from his smug satisfaction by a glare from Steele. It would not have surprised him if it had burned.
    “Is this connected to the large amount of cocaine that’s been hitting the streets?” asked a woman with a film crew in tow and an unmoving forehead.
    “We are pursuing multiple lines of enquiry,” Gray parroted.
    “Meaning, you don’t know where to start?” asked a nasal voice from a red faced white haired man in a corduroy jacket with an outstretched hand and a dictophone.
    “Meaning,” Steele interjected forcefully, “we are pursuing multiple lines of enquiry.”
    “Who is responsible for the spike in drug related crime in the city?” asked the woman with the botoxed brow.
    “We’re ehm,” Gray began, looking at Steele like a dog might view its owner after ruining the carpet with one of its bodily functions “not here to discuss drug related crime. Best to stay on topic I think.” He took a deep breath, before evidently picking a spot on the wall behind the congregation of local media, focussing and beginning his sermon. “This isn’t necessarily about the well-publicised war on drugs. It isn’t about a crime wave or statistics or how well we’re doing and it isn’t about what a victim may or may not have done. In each case it’s about someone’s son, someone’s partner, possibly even someone’s father. It’s about stopping this happening again, not for the statistics or the clear up rates but for the safety of the public. If anyone knows anything or knows anyone who knows anything, no matter how inconsequential it might seem, we would ask that they please come forward and share this information with us as soon as possible. This could have been your partner, your father, your son and if we don’t sort this out and bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice it could be next time.”
    Give me strength Burke thought as someone at the back of the room did a mocking hand clap.
    Gray had his sound bite. Within a couple of hours it would be on the news in people’s living rooms as they chomped on their TV dinners. It may even put them off their TV dinners.
    Address over, the boss rose from his seat, jerking his head forward in an affirmative manner and adjusting his jacket so it hung off him in a forwards direction before triumphantly leaving the room.
    Burke caught Steele’s gaze as she made to exit and thought he saw her stifling an eye roll.
    He followed the pair down the corridor as the media scrum headed out the door on the other side of the room. They regrouped in Steele’s office, neither man wanting to sit down as the Detective Superintendent stared out the window at the yellowing skyline, flanked by photos of her grandkids. Steele’s office at least had a degree of personality to it compared with Gray’s tribute to 90s utilitarianism.
    “I feel that went well guys,” she finally said, attempting to adjust an unruly pot plant. “You were fairly conspicuous in your silence James, although I think we managed to fill that void
    fairly well. I trust you were actually with us in there?”
    “Yes Ma’am,” Burke replied.
    “Good. It’s good practice for you, you know. Media experience is a thing you’ll need to progress in the modern force.” Steele raised the index and middle fingers on each hand forming quotation marks before adding, “Going forward” and Burke couldn’t help but like her a little more for it. “In the mean-time chaps, what exactly is the script? Are we really pursuing multiple lines of enquiry as you said? I really hope we know something about what’s going on here.”
    “Well,” Gray, started awkwardly, “there is one theory doing the rounds.” He looked appealingly at Burke, who now realised the DCI did not know where he was going with this one and expected his subordinate to help him out and magic something out of the ether.
    He dutifully obliged with all he had while inwardly cursing Campbell for expressing his opinions.
    After a conversation which made him feel like he needed to take a shower, he headed to Moray Place.
    He pressed the buzzer next to the brass name plates heralding the names of the many MBACPs present and was duly allowed over the threshold. He announced his presence to the receptionist who seemed fresh faced and chirpy in contrast to those in the waiting room. His dentist employed a more matronly type who looked at patients with the knowing sense of foreboding combined with a touch of sympathy only years of dealing with the afflicted could provide. Here they’d gone for the screaming of their own success by employing someone with the right shade of lip gloss approach, more traditionally deployed by advertising agencies.
    He took a seat by the stack of magazines under an aesthetically questionable Jackson Pollock rip-off and checked his emails. Aside from the standard invitations to buy Viagra and Xanax and the many warnings from the many banks he had no dealings with regarding the security of his accounts there was nothing to report.
    Reflex meant he would normally dig his hands deep into his pockets in a place like this but he forced himself not to and instead picked up a magazine about running and thumbed through. One day perhaps he would be able to run the length of himself. Until such time he could always read about it here, provided he could pick up the magazine.
    The receptionist called his name and he made his way through, head hung low, to explain himself some more.
    Dr Carr was probably around five years older than he was but had a face with an ageless quality.
    “Morning,” Burke began, “or is it afternoon?” He checked his watch. Just before twelve. “On the cusp,” he concluded as he sat down awkwardly and she smiled patiently.
    She always had this effect on him. In the two years or so he’d been coming here there was invariably this disjointed exchange with the cursory attempt at small talk on his side and what could have been called a gentle stone wall in response.
    “So, how are you?” she enquired.
    “Good. Good,” he fired back, emphasising the second good and looking at his Chelsea-booted toes before catching her gaze and the raised eyebrow that suggested doubt at this. Social convention meant he always felt the need to ask the same back but as with the magazine he forced himself to defy reflex.
    She said nothing, knowing he would give in and fill the uncomfortable void with whatever poured out. He reasoned it must be like the psychiatrist’s ink blot. You saw what you wanted to see and blurted out whatever came to your head. In a similar way she was tapping into whatever filled his mind, willing him to trip up on his fear of the conversational lull, the resultant drivel filling in whatever blanks she still had in his psychological profile.
    This was his hell. Two years and three psychotherapists on and still there was no end in sight. It was a racket. Who didn’t have a screw or two loose?
    He wasn’t there through choice but under orders; not Gray’s this time but Rachel’s. She put up with a lot but demanded this in return; one hour a week in the company of a shrink and his ghosts.
    It was a large office but even Burke would concede it got crowded in here of a Wednesday afternoon.
    “They’re back,” he said, cursing his own lack of self control and watching as she acknowledged this information without giving anything away.


    Daryll woke in a state of confusion. He blinked at the midday sun streaming through the yellowing net curtains and took a moment to assess the situation.
    The pain surged into the base of his skull as his stomach somersaulted in sympathy and his mouth began to water. He would not throw up he assured himself. He wouldn’t. He launched his slight frame across the room and plunged headfirst through the bathroom door towards the pan. His stomach emptied itself as the cranial pain was renewed once more.
    Never get high on your own supply; that was the old adage. No one saw fit to mention the perils of getting wasted on cheap rum while trying to deal with the tedium of attempting to peddle the shit though.
    What a fucking mess. They were a man down thanks to Leon going missing, probably having thought better of the whole thing as they’d made naff all progress so far.
    Stupid fucking plan anyway. There was no way with this place. A – it was too cold, B - the people seemed to have adjusted themselves accordingly and let off the same vibe and C – when you did manage to engage the muppets they had a few trust issues going on. There was a bit of a prejudice element to it he reckoned. How precisely was someone supposed to get a foothold in this place?
    All they wanted was to be the local crack dealers but would anyone give them a break? Hell no.
    A series of snorting and snuffling sounds emerged from Gus’s mouth or nose. He couldn’t say which. The great pile of lard lay face down on a mess of feather filled rags that might once have passed for a mattress. He couldn’t even breathe properly. Such a basic human function and he had to make it sound like a pig was up to some serious truffle hunting on the on the other side of the room.
    Crawling was the best solution to his current malaise and its inherent mobility issues. He slumped back onto the mattress knowing it would be a while before he could move again without incurring the wrath of his head but wary of the fact there was a limit to the length of time he could stay still before his weak and feeble mind took over. Once that happened the symptoms would be magnified further. Such was the state of hangover play.
    This thought alone brought the stomach churning on once more and once more he made contact with porcelain. There was nothing left to give as it turned out, save for a large amount of reflexive exertion. Was this what hell would be like? Probably, although it would be a close run contest between a perpetual hangover and just one weekend in this place.
    It wasn’t the Brum. That was for sure. It didn’t have the familiar haunts. There was no comfort zone to stretch out in but he’d hoped that might mean a lack of the same frustrations, no more glass ceiling to bounce his head off. They had talked about this being the promised-land. Stupid. That was back when it was all shiny and new. They still had hope then, to some degree, thought they’d do it together, like The Godfather Part 2 in the flashback sequences. They’d get rid of the established market they said, get their own slice of the pie, couldn’t be more than a few daft jocks and they were all pissed most of the time.
    It had seemed a flawless plan but now, much like last night’s Lamb Bhuna, it was headed round the u-bend.
    They had done some serious under estimation. This might not be a bigger pond but as far as they were concerned, there were a lot bigger fish.
    Gus spluttered some more before kicking into life like some kind of clapped out over-loaded motor. He looked up from his mattress through eyes that as usual looked set to burst out of their sockets. “Well what now, man with the plan?” he rasped.
* * *
    The initial chat with Edwards had been brief. Yes, the SCDEA were missing Vlad the Inhaler, was all he was willing to give away over the phone before he began quizzing Burke regarding the state of the body or part thereof that they had in their possession.
    Burke sent some pictures across in a password protected file along with some info from forensics.
    They had arranged a call back for later in the afternoon, following the head shrinking session.
    It was around three; the point at which afternoons generally tended to sag. He often wondered what they’d done to cope with it in the past. In the days of the liquid lunch afternoons must have amounted to an endurance event. Sleeping on the job was hard enough to avoid in these more puritanical times. His system seemed to go into a sort of pre-hibernation state. It was worse in the summer, when the air con struggled to cope in a building constructed on the cheap with one eye on the public purse strings.
    He went for a wander to the coffee machine, more in an effort to get the blood going than anything to do with caffeine, which, if he was honest, he needed just to function normally, never mind provide any sort of perk.
    Campbell shifted awkwardly in his seat as he passed, pretending to focus on a set of generic graphics Burke recognised from an online gambling site and which popped up when the skiving chancer in question made the mouse hover over a “look busy” icon.
    He didn’t actually mind Campbell being on the site but did feel reassured when any of his subordinates scrambled to hide things like that when they heard him coming. It was one of life’s little pleasures, admittedly a mildly sadistic one.
    Campbell had been talking about placing a bet on the possibility of a white Christmas earlier.
    Edwards had a shifty air when he finally called back. “I’m sending a couple of my team through to identify the remains if it’s ok by you,” he said. “Or at least do the best they can.”
    “Yeah sure,” Burke replied.
    “Just another scumbag off the street, small time pusher. Gets it all off your desk doesn’t it?”
    “It does,” Burke agreed, thinking it was terribly helpful.
    “First thing tomorrow we should be able to confirm either way but looking at the snaps I’d say it’s our boy.”
    Burke attempted to extract a fairly stubborn bit of chicken from between two of his back teeth.
    “And as for this other one, I’m not even sure they’re connected but as a one off finders fee let’s say…”
    The chicken gave way and Burke felt a sense of victory.
    “…I suppose we could, ahem, assume they are and take that off your hands to boot.”
    Gotcha. A smile slowly spread across Burke’s face. A low down shrink’s trick it was but definitely one that worked and the results themselves had a certain therapeutic quality.
    “Anyway,” Edwards continued, talking into the void, “I suppose we should catch up again this time tomorrow.”
    “Tomorrow it is then.” Burke agreed. As he put the phone down he felt the tension ease itself out of his shoulders and his brow begin to unfurl.
    He left the office and made his way home where he crawled into bed and into a state of unconsciousness for the next 12 hours.


    Andy waited patiently at the port road end. The big John Deere rattled in its diesely way and the cover on the exhaust did its dance in his eye-line as he waited for a gap in the line of cars coming out of Braehead towards Newton: rush hour - shire style.
    It was a tiny bit ironic, just how vulnerable you could feel at the wheel of several tons of metal, especially having a few more tons hitched to the back of the tractor in the form of a trailer.
    It was a cushy job this though if he was honest; take the John Deere down to Baldoon and fill the trailer up with feed. Repeat the cycle a couple of times. Everyone knew you couldn’t exactly haul ass in a tractor, so taking it easy was the order of the day or at least the afternoon.
    He needed an easy afternoon after the weekend he’d had. Friday night they’d hit Newton just for the hell of it. They started playing pool in The Star, trying to have a quiet one. But then someone said something about karaoke in The Central and big mental Davie, who’d missed out on the hi-jinks of the weekend before, had declared himself to be a black belt in karaoke.
    After that everything went a bit jumpy memory-wise. He remembered The Central, someone singing Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and Jimmy Walker eating a pint glass. Why did he always feel the need to do that? Then some boys from Whithorn had offered to fight everyone, just because they’d decided amongst themselves that they could.
    Saturday was a write off. This was what happened when the parents went away on holiday and left him in charge.
    They’d headed up to Stranraer. They’d trudged the mean streets of this insular tribute to a certain style of seventies architecture looking for some kind of adventure and accidentally found it in The Royal after stepping on someone’s toes, quite literally.
    He’d been trying to get the barmaid’s attention. It wasn’t working but he wasn’t a man to give in easily. As she passed by he tried to make eye contact, a bit the worse for wear. He was over enthusiastic and despite only trying to follow her with his eyes he’d ended up doing so with his entire body as his feet tagged along for the ride.
    He walked straight across the feet of a mean looking skin headed type who seemed to take exception. The guy’s face was distinctly bulldog-like. His nose had seen better days and his slow movements made him look punch drunk more than traditionally hammered.
    Before Andy could say anything by way of an apology the other man lashed out, slamming him up against the bar. His movements were so subdued the way he swung almost looked camp. The man’s head shot forward without warning, driven by some unforeseen force, rattling his teeth off the bar. His shoulders slumped down as his body seemed to give in briefly before jerking fitfully back to life.
    Andy looked up and saw the grinning face of Davie, who as it turned out was blissfully unaware of the bottle headed straight for the back of his head.
    Everything happened so quickly; that was what people always said and it kind of did but at the same time everything was in slow motion. He heard the bottle holding guy say something in what he thought must have been an Eastern European language, probably Polish. He looked a lot like the bulldog but was distinguishable by an unusual tattoo sticking through the top of his shirt. He could remember thinking all of this just as the heavy duty bar stool came into contact with the guy’s jaw and everything underneath that point just seemed to collapse.
    The bulldog guy seemed to find his balance again. He opened his mouth to speak but his words were slurred as the air and blood vapour breezed through the gap where his teeth had been. He rubbed his face, looked down at his hand and frowned before heading for the nearest exit as though on autopilot.
    His friend lay on the ground dazed while people crowded around, partly trying to be good Samaritans partly wishing to be bit players in the action.
    After that everything died down pretty quickly. It amazed him how that could happen. One minute you were having a quiet pint on a Saturday night, the next it had all gone tits up and you were dazed, spitting blood and wondering where the fuck your incisors had gone. Meanwhile, everyone went back to normal rules of engagement as the music kicked off again and you were left to pick up the pieces.
    Sunday night they decided it was far safer just downing a few cans in front of Call of Duty.
    The consequences of all of this caught up some time around Monday morning and now he was paying his debt to the party gods in full.
    As he headed down the track the low hanging branches bounced off the tractors cab jarring his nerves more than they needed. The flat expanse of Baldoon opened up before him stretching off into the distance to be interrupted by Wig Bay, going south to the Solway Firth. Beyond, the Galloway Hills looking glacial at this time of year, having received their seasonal dusting of snow, dominated the north and east of the horizon.
    The airfield had been built in the war, this being a suitably out of the way place to hide trainees for the RAF’s finest. A good few pilots had ended their days on those hills due to errors of judgement or just plain bad luck. Air strips ran east to west and north to south intersecting each other and the shells of what had once been the base’s buildings lay like the skeletal remains of what must have been a much more dramatic world.
    To the south of The Machars, nearer the bottom of the peninsula at Garlieston they’d built the Mulberry Harbour; a top secret floating construction used for the D-Day landings and to the west at Knockienam Churchill and Eisenhower met to formulate plans.
    It seemed strange to think so much had gone on here. Now they didn’t even have a railway. The creamery had gone years ago and farming had changed altogether. Now the first thing many people did when they were old enough was get out. There was a bit of a brain drain going on. University or college in one of the big cities gave people a taste for the bright lights and life in the big smoke. Many didn’t return. It could get lonely if you stayed.
    Not that Andy was worried. He was getting out. That was for sure. He was on a gap year; that was all. A gap yaaah, Davie had called it in his best scarf wearing toff accent before asking if he shouldn’t be somewhere more exotic, volunteering and teaching people the error of their ways, to which he’d replied he was.
    He’d done it to help the old man out. He knew his dad would never ask him to stay, although deep down he knew he wanted him to. As a way to cut down on his guilt he’d decided to stick around for a year, remind the old boy how nuts they drove each other, chill out and earn some coin before heading for the bright lights, a place at uni and whatever the future might hold. The truth was he had no clue what he wanted. He just knew there was stuff out there. He wasn’t even sure what stuff, just stuff you could get your teeth into; conversations that didn’t involve cattle, cars or casual gossip.
    He rounded the airfield and approached the entrance to the feed store. Some of the old buildings had evolved over time into a mini industrial complex that now contained a saw-mill and an agricultural supply store along with some offices and warehouses. Recently the whole lot had been bought over by a big company and it looked like security had been beefed up as he drew up to a full-on looking galvanised gate.
    Andy had an uncomfortable feeling in his bones as he leaned down out of the cab to speak to the only worker by the gate, a man he now realised had a familiar toothless grin.


    The two officers from the SCDEA had arrived around half past nine, conspicuously better turned out than their Edinburgh CID counterparts. It looked like they spent most of their wages in Urban Outfitters and probably the rest being seen in the flashiest bars in the Merchant City. Burke had always been more of a west end man where Glasgow was concerned, although even that was filling up with hipsters these days by all accounts.
    They could have passed for students if you dropped them into another context he thought, before rebuking himself for the kind of lazy thinking he hated seeing in anyone else. Sometimes he felt he was engaged in a constant battle to see off the thought processes that signalled the start of the inevitable decline. Fair play, he was half way to seventy this year.
    The guy, who introduced himself as DC Black, seemed almost shy, and yet there was something about his manner, something just the wrong side of assertive; probably just a sense of entitlement bestowed upon him by virtue of the fact he was a member of the SCDEA, the institution the media had taken great pains to describe as a Scottish equivalent of the FBI. Or maybe it was the fact he was a small man with big hair, as so many weegies seemed to be.
    He wore a wedding ring which seemed out of place, given his age and wore a leather bomber jacket, which Burke suspected was less ironic fashion sense, more playing at being the big movie cop. He wondered how long he’d spent practising the iron grip handshake: probably bullied at school.
    The girl, DC Wilson seemed pretty hard-nosed in the sense that she said very little but had an unrelenting gaze and when she did speak it was more of a grunting in acknowledgement kind of thing. He got the sense she was busy taking everything in, mixing it with a healthy sized pinch of disdain. He could tell she didn’t approve of him; an old fogey wearing a suit and hiding out here rather than getting on with the high flyers and busting the big criminals. She too was on the small side. He wondered if they’d been paired up to make Black feel more secure. She stood with folded arms, not in a way that some people seemed to think gave away a sense of discomfort. She wasn’t hugging herself. She was more intent on projecting the idea that she couldn’t be bothered standing up straight with her arms by her sides. This place wasn’t worthy of good posture or standing to attention in any way. Her hair was scraped back in austere utilitarian fashion and she chewed on her lip as she scanned the room and tried to rein in the contempt. She wore a scarf tight around her neck so that only her face was visible.
    This was just a courtesy call of course; before they identified the Russian or former Russian’s head officially, as they inevitably would, and Edwards would put in a courtesy call to give him the soft soap, tell him it was ok, they’d take the whole thing off his hands while inwardly gritting his teeth and hoping those parochial Edinburgers wouldn’t get possessive over a case and an operation they’d blundered their way into by virtue of just working on the patch the relevant part of the stiff had turned up on. How much better might things have been for Edwards if one of the other body parts had simply turned up elsewhere? A leg in Bishopbriggs perhaps, an arm in East Kilbride, or maybe a foot in Falkirk could have been a foot in the door.
    He caught up on the news while he waited to hear the inevitable result. More snow was predicted. They’d yet to see the results of the last batch other than in the Yorkshire Dales and a few minor road closures in the south east where everything seemed to happen.
    The phone rang on his desk. Edwards already? What was the decision to be?
    It was Rachel. Could he, per chance, collect a Christmas tree from Gorgie City Farm on the way home? He agreed with a heavy sigh that slipped out and then led to one of those conversations revolving round his assertion that it was fine and he didn’t mind which they both knew was not that case.
    He would let Edwards take the case off his hands he had already decided, mainly because he didn’t have the energy to bother fighting over it, or take it higher up, much less a Scooby what was going on with the whole thing. Of course they would weigh in anyway, with the argument that this was getting in the way of their investigation into god knew what and the bigger boys and girls upstairs would at least be happy that these were potentially unsolved cases off their books. Clear up rates would be unaffected and so on and so forth. It was all about the politics.
    So when the phone rang again he was more than ready for Edwards’ Oscar winning performance.
* * *
    Victor had wasted no time in setting up camp. It seemed the two idiots were intending to act as his body guards, which would have perhaps been funny if he were a laughing man. In any case, it wouldn’t do to be seen laughing in the company of these imbeciles. The underdeveloped one clearly thought of himself as the brains. No one else would be likely to make that mistake, though looking at the overgrown one, clearly typecast as the goon, he supposed it was all relative.
    The small one had repeatedly tried to make conversation, seemingly impervious to Victor’s lack of acknowledgement or reply. “Ye been tae Embra before like?” he’d asked and then, realising Victor wasn’t totally sure what this meant, repeated the same question twice, each time in a language closer to what Victor guessed passed for English round here. On the third and final attempt, though Victor admired the runt’s persistence, he looked him squarely in the eye, saying nothing, until the effect caused him to wither, his confidence seemingly draining like someone had let the air out of his tyres. The car journey had been somewhat more pleasant after that.
    They’d arrived at the offices after around forty five minutes. After being shown into Oleg’s private suite, Victor resolved to make it is own for the time being. “Where did you get these?” he asked, tilting his head towards his escorts.
    “Saughton,” the large one said in a squeaky voice as the small one kicked him in what was obviously intended to be a subtle gesture.
    “I did not ask you,” he replied putting the large one in a state of unease. Victor guessed he was not used to being spoken to this way, given his size; probably a gentle giant prone to the weakness of loyalty. Not that loyalty was necessarily a weakness in the right circumstances but this was not the brotherhood. This was loyalty to his sidekick, or the weasel like man who it seemed considered him the sidekick.
    “What is Saughton?” he fired at Oleg in their native tongue.
    “Local prison,” he replied. “They did some time with an associate.”
    Victor nodded. He knew something of this kind of association. “Nonetheless, you should have at least sent some of our people,” he replied in English, knowing reprimanding Oleg in front of his goons was a loss of face to the man; unorthodox to say the least.
    “I thought you would have wanted our people with Sacha and Boris.”
    Victor nodded again. He was inclined to agree. “It is not your place to presume to know what I want,” was all he said.
    “Of course,” Oleg replied.
    “And stop sweating.”
    “Right away.”
    “You may go,” he informed the two body guards, and they awkwardly made their exit, shuffling and nodding deferentially.
    “You’ve let yourself go old friend,” he told Oleg as he helped himself to a whiskey from a well-rounded minibar. Something he did know of this country was the 25 year old Glenlivet in his glass. Oleg made some good decisions.
    He took in the older man’s appearance. He’d grown fat and redder of face. His hair stuck matted to his head, held in place by stress and sweat. “If it isn’t bad booze I can only assume it’s bad food.”
    “You can say that again,” he agreed, pouring himself a large measure.
    The scotch grounded him, biting the back of his throat and warming everything on the way down, focussing him fully on the here and now for the first time in hours. He was now very aware of the plate glass wall behind him. A river meandered past the building; the banks and everything on them seasonally cold and dead, a husk of what they had been a short time ago.
    “So,” he began, recovering his train of thought, “What do we know?”


    Campbell had sunk one too many now. Earlier, with Sam and the boss, it had all been fine, just a social thing, a morale booster, but now he’d crossed a line, gone via pleasantly inebriated to drunk and he needed a pick me up.
    The bar maid, Sophie, had given him her number after a campaign he’d waged ceaselessly. She probably had to endure idiots giving her bad chat all the time, so he’d seen it as a challenge. He’d circumvented her defences by not being that guy, by just talking in a non-look-at-me way to the point of sympathising when other punters who were that guy made their drunken approaches. He’d played the nice guy and now he had her number.
    He deleted it from his phone, adding it to the countless numbers he’d deleted and thrown away before.
    His supply was running out. It had been good stuff. He wasn’t sure where this stuff was coming from but it was pretty potent. They hadn’t been too stingy when they cut it.
    He had the number in his phone. Risky yes but some contacts were invaluable and there were some things you needed to get you through. In any case the number was stored under “Boots” on account of the supplier’s ready access to all things chemical and medicinal. He’d thought about putting it in as ICI but that might require more explaining if anyone went through his phone.
    He made the call, took a cab to the foot of Leith Walk and walked along Great Junction Street until he saw her, standing outside the Tam O’ Shanter, smoking a Marlborough Light. She was out of context down here, dressed like a successful business woman in a long black coat and a trouser suit. She stood out here, but not in the places she frequented on a regular basis. Whatever her surroundings it was unlikely anyone knew that her brief case contained the various stimulants and sedatives she supplied to the great and the good, those with the money to pay a bit more for the sanitised well-mannered and well turned out version of the drug dealer.
    “What’s with the cloak and dagger stuff?” he asked, shooting her an intentionally wide grin as he walked towards her.
    “Walk,” she replied in an icy tone as she fell in step with him, continuing along the road.
    “Ok,” he said, doing as he was told but wondering where this was going. “Are you going to tell me where?”
    She shoved him left, and he braced for what he thought was a wall but staggered instead into an alleyway, his senses swimming in booze. She launched at him again, pinning him to a bin and he struggled, pushing her away. She was deceptively strong. “Don’t you think I watch the news?” she demanded.
    She lurched forward again, shoving her hands deep inside his suit jacket, frisking him for all he was worth. “Are you wearing a wire? Is that it?”
    “No. What? How long have we been doing business? We go back a long way.”
    “Not that long,” she replied. “I know all about entrapment you know.”
    He held his hands up. “Ok, it’s a fair cop. So you know who I am. I like to keep that on the down low, that’s all. There’s nothing suspicious going on here. Just calm down.”
    She looked at him angrily and he decided she could probably take him if it came to a fight, through sheer determination alone.
    “Now can I please purchase some of that fine produce of yours?” Campbell laughed nervously hating himself for it. “I can’t not have that stuff in my life.”
    “Forget it,” she said, throwing her arms in the air. “You’ve had that. How can I trust you now? You’re too big a risk. Do you know what they’d do to me?” Her eyes narrowed as she regarded him with utter contempt.
    “What who’d do to you?” he asked.
    “Nice try.”
    “Hey. Surely we can work this out.”
    “Not likely,” she scoffed, turning on her heels. “I’d rather not end up with my head in a bag.”
    He watched her walk away, before pulling out his phone and deleting yet another number.
* * *
    Burke sat in Gray’s office staring at his feet as he allowed his toes to do the fidgeting, unseen.
    The DCI was holding forth on the importance of figures. “It’s a numbers game James, you know that.”
    “Yes sir.”
    “I mean we live and die by our clear up rate, which is why I’m only too happy for you to palm this one off to SCDEA. Let Edwards brush it under the carpet as he obviously intends to. Oh I know, I dare say at your age I would have been keen to get my teeth into it. Make no mistake about that, but you always have to keep one eye on the politics if you want to get on. And during these stark financial times, God knows everyone wants more bang for their buck.”
    “These are just the realities you have to contend with in this game.”
    That and mastering the dodgy handshakes, Burke thought as he watched Gray stare out of the window in a manner he probably thought conveyed a contemplative general surveying the field of battle, despite the fact the view was of a car park.
    Why the DCI thought he had to sell him on this he had no clue, but he’d go along with the charade anyway, just to indulge him. It paid to look keen while silently chalking these things up to experience.
    “You’re married, aren’t you Jim?”
    “I am,” Burke replied. “Three years.”
    “Early days,” Gray chuckled. “Tell me about it when it’s been 20.”
    Burke reflected that he hadn’t in fact brought it up.
    “You know, my brother-in-law’s in the car trade.”
    “Yes, does all right out of it too. Not sure there hasn’t been the odd dodgy dealing and there at times if you know what I mean, and he’s picked up more than a few tricks along the way. In fact I think he could well put Derren Brown to shame.”
    “I’m sure.”
    “Once told me a story about a time he got a dodgy Triumph Stag from the auctions, just in the early days as he was starting out. He had a mechanic who looked the car over and discovered the suspension was shot. Well, then they decided the only thing they could do was to prop the whole thing up with bits of wood from an old pallet and punt the thing through an ad in one of the trade papers.” Gray chuckled to himself again. “Met the guy down a dark alley or in a layby somewhere so there were no comebacks, flogged it and legged it.” He laughed some more, taking a moment to bask in the glory of what he doubtless thought was a well told anecdote.
    “Really,” Burke replied, in a manner he hoped was just the right side of sarcastic.
    “Yes, really,” the DCI replied, remembering himself, before nervously clearing his throat and continuing. “Anyway, the thing he always says, and I mean always, at any given opportunity at pretty much every family gathering once he gets a few too many G&Ts into him, is that most cars are not sold to men.”
    “I see.” Much as Burke appreciated the words of wisdom, he found it unlikely he would be selling Vauxhall Astras anytime soon.
    “Ah but you don’t Jim.” Gray pressed on, “And you won’t until you reach a later stage of the syndrome. My brother in law rarely sells a car to a man, well not one that’s married or otherwise cohabiting at any rate. Even if it’s the husband looking and on the surface buying, you always sell the car to the wife. She makes the decisions everywhere, and I mean everywhere. That’s the point.”
    “I hear that.” Burke said absent-mindedly.
    “Imagine that.”
    “You might well imagine it James. Clearly you still harbour some illusion of control, but that’ll fade once, Rachel is it?”
    “Once Rachel has worn you down.”
    “Right.” Was Gray trying to justify something he had done at the bidding of his wife, some crime he was about to fess up to following his segue into the mind of the car buying and indeed it seemed general mind-set of the married man?
    “Eventually you’ll know what it is to be beaten down.”
    “Anyway, that’s my point.”
    “I see. Sorry…” Burke struggled to find his words and instead found himself merely squinting as though an altered visual field would allow some new light to shine on the situation as spelled out by his superior, giving some kind of grasp of the situation.
    Gray let out a long sigh. “The divisional commander’s wife says we’re not allowed to pass this on to the SCDEA so you’re stuck with it.”
* * *
    They sat round Davie’s kitchen table draining cups of tea which were swiftly refilled from a giant pot sitting on top of the Aga. Davie’s mum treated him well it had to be said. Legend had it he didn’t know how to make tea and didn’t even choose his own clothes in the morning; just turned up at the Aga where they were waiting, folded over the rail, primed for the boy wonder to fill them.
    Andy stared at the sugar bowl, trying to make out his reflection in the dull tarnished concave surface of the teaspoon, anything really to avoid eye contact with the other two. It had all happened before he’d known about it. The toothless Polish guy had recognised him about the time he had done the same. The fact that he was already hanging out of the cab of the John Deere was the thing that really went against him. The guy grabbed him by the lapels of his boiler suit and in one smooth movement Andy was no longer in the cab. The giant jerked back suddenly as he over did it and lost his footing. Andy was thrown further out. He saw the gatepost heading towards him and felt his heart jump, right before everything went black. Everything after that was a bit hazy. He had pieces; some kind of flashback of another voice in a foreign tongue, giving the first one a hard time. He could remember being angry as they tried to move him. He just wanted to be left alone.
    He was back in the John Deere when he came to what was left of his senses. They’d filled the trailer with feed. He was on the road to the side of the airstrip, neatly parked up. He was groggy and his head hurt. He staggered down the steps of the tractor and threw up on the grass. He sat for a while trying to muster the wherewithal to get moving, fired up the tractor, knocked it into gear and let out the clutch. He made it to the end of the side road, looked sideways at the junction and got overtaken by a wave of nausea.
    He abandoned ship again just in time for whatever was left in his stomach to come up. He stood, leaning over the fence for a few minutes, just listening to the rattle of the diesel engine trying to quiet the jumbled up thoughts going through his head. Something that should be so simple was now nigh on impossible. He gave up after the second attempt, after realising he would never make it out of the junction. He couldn’t move his head to check for oncoming traffic.
    He phoned Davie who jumped straight into the car and headed down to get him. He’d abandoned the tractor, hightailed it and ever since he’d been drinking tea in an effort to feel something like normal.
    He felt ashamed if he was honest. He’d been taken by surprise, yes, but the Polish guy would have had the better of him anyway. The feeling of helplessness was not a feeling he thought he would ever be able to shake. He shivered thinking about it.
    “I say we all head down and sort them,” Davie announced.
    “You would,” his brother Colin snapped.
    “Aye, I would,” Davie replied. “You’ve got to put your foot down. Cannae let people walk all over you bro.”
    “I never do. Sounds like it was a bit of an accident. Saying that, it’s a bit full on though.”
    “You’re not kidding, is not like they even phoned an ambulance or anything. His head could be vegetable soup for all they knew and they just him left to choke on his own puke or something.”
    “Aye, but what are you really gonna do?”
    “I don’t know, bunch of boys, pickup truck, baseball bats, job done.”
    “Yeee haw! We’re not in the deep south now Jim Bob.”
    Andy laughed and then regretted it, wondering if he was about to see those cups of tea again. “Technically, we are if you think about it.” He groaned.
    The other two laughed and Colin poured more tea, spooning more sugar in, to the point where the spoon was liable to stand up on its own.
    “What do you want us to do?” Davie finally asked. “Surely you don’t want to let them get away with it?”
    “I think all I want is my bed. Besides, isn’t looking for trouble what got me into this position in the first place?”
    “They started it.” Davie said, was a petulant look on his face. “But I’ll finish it.”
    “I think you just wanted to say that,” Colin chimed in, slowly turning the screw in the back of his brother’s head. Why did brothers seem to enjoy winding each other up so much? Andy didn’t have brothers, though at times he thought it could be handy. They wound each other up these two, but they always had each other’s back.
    “In any case.” Davie said, his face hardening suddenly, “Something’s got to be done.”
    It was a face Andy had seen pull only once before, and that had ended in tears.


    The offices of the SCDEA were hardly in the most salubrious of locations. Opposite a branch of a car rental firm, they looked like an up-to-date version of Gayfield Square; a testament to the architect’s lack of imagination or the lack of available options maybe.
    They announced their arrival at the front desk and waited. The waiting must have been Edwards making a point. It went on for about ten minutes while Burke checked his phone messages and Facebook updates, eyed some managerial looking portraits of senior officers in the lobby and finally settled on looking at a pamphlet for Crime Stoppers.
    It was DC Wilson who finally arrived, looking gregarious as ever. She escorted them to the lift where they made way up to the second floor. The office had a constant hum about it, the noise of activity, several brains processing information; analysts and coppers engaged in a constant struggle to stay one step ahead, or probably more accurately no more than a step behind the criminal fraternity.
    They made their way towards a glassed off room at the back of the office, eyed by a stressed looking figure in an office to the side Burke presumed was Edwards. The man spoke into his phone in an animated fashion, gesticulating redundantly with his right hand.
    Wilson took coffee orders and went in search of some biscuits as they sat one end of a long conference table. A plasma screen complete with camera hung from the wall at one end of the room for conferencing. On the opposite wall a drop down screen was positioned to take projections from above their heads.
    They could see Edwards as he made his way across the floor towards the conference room. He was tall, around 6’2, fair hair and looked as though he kept fit, probably mid 40s Burke thought. In stark contrast to himself, Edwards was what you might realistically expect a Detective Inspector to look like.
    “I have to apologise for my lateness, duty calls and all that,” he began, shaking Burke’s hand with a grip which was surprisingly limp.
    “Not at all,” Burke lied, “we’re grateful for your time,” he lied again. “Nice offices.”
    “Well, it keeps the rain off our heads,” Edwards replied, “But I’m sure you didn’t come here to appreciate the interior architecture.”
    “No, quite right,” Burke confirmed. “Thought it’d be a good idea to call in person, seeing as I was through here anyway.” Lie number three.
    “Good, well I’m glad you could fit us in,” Edwards grunted, through gritted whitened gnashers.
    “Obviously, this has caused a bit of a stir.”
    Edwards raised his eyebrows in a way that clearly said sarcy bastard. “Really.”
    Burke lowered his in a way that clearly communicated mock empathy, with just the right amount of ha ha fuck you thrown in for good measure. “Well I’m sure we all want to inconvenience each other as little as possible. So what have you got for us?”
    “I’d like to say not a lot. It would mean we hadn’t wasted hundreds of man-hours on this only for it to go straight down the swanny.”
    Burke noted the way he used the expression. There was a hint of the wrong vowel in the way he tailed off with the Y; suggested Edwards was not a man predisposed to using such expressions, would rarely do so socially and probably only did here in a misguided attempt to buy himself some kind of social currency. Not Paisley boy then, or at least not educated here.
    “I’d appreciate it if you’d take care of this. I can’t afford any more expensive losses.”
    “Of course.” Burke replied.
    “Good.” Edwards said, in the manner of a teacher who has just reprimanded a slightly disruptive pupil. “So, Vlad the Inhaler, AKA Vladimir Petrovsky.” He passed them a single paper copy of Vlad’s rap sheet. If it was possible, he looked even more unhealthy with the body attached, going on the evidence of his mug shots. Edwards fired up the projector and hooked in his laptop as Burke and DC Jones leafed through the deceased’s rap sheet and MO. Burke had accessed this already. That was the easy bit, a matter of public or at least police record and so readily available on the database. Edwards ran through the rap sheet as he flicked through the file the projector. Vlad’s bloodhound face looked down at them from the stat covered screen, like the world’s most unlikely sportsman.
    “He’s been on our radar for the past ten years, which is when he appeared in the country. Lithuanian national, did some serious time back home after running a crew of thieving scumbags and trying to pull off a daring armed robbery. Who’d have thought there was anything worth robbing in the former Eastern Bloc? Turns out someone was storing diamonds in Vilnius. More fool them. Seems our boy got wind of it. Anyway, he went away for five years, got involved with a bad crowd, or maybe just a worse crowd. Know anything about Russian prison gangs Burke?” He asked this in a way that suggested it was a challenge.
    “Not especially. Thought you said he was Lithuanian?”
    “Okay, former Soviet Union prison gangs then. He’s ethnic Russian, hence the name. You get the picture. He got involved with those boys before coming out with more fingers just itching to get into more pies than most men would be capable of. You name it, our boy was into it. As I say, he appeared on these sunny shores some ten years back, by way of London. It looks like some of the brotherhood were already fully installed there, but ever the opportunist, Vlad stepped on more than a few toes. They dispatched him to the great undiscovered northern frontier. He settled in like the parasite he is, flitting between the two cities until he got a proper foothold in the capital. He started up with some light people trafficking taking advantage of your fair city’s lenient attitude to saunas slash massage parlours to cash in on his…” He coughed and pantomime fashion, “imports, before throwing in some extras for his clientele, mainly coke. Then about five years ago he got all technological and discovered the merits of internet fraud. This is the latest information we have on his activities.” Edwards opened an Excel spreadsheet. There were different tabs for each of Vlad’s income streams and the names of various contacts, phone numbers and addresses.
    “Of course, he got the name due to his love of the hard stuff. He obviously got bored of snorting coke and took up smoking crack. And that’s when things really went nuts. Around a year ago he seems to have cleaned up his act. Edwards pulled out a dongle like object and plugged it into the side of his laptop. He opened the visualisation program and dumped all the data from the spreadsheet into it. As it updated, they were presented with a selection of graphics, structures that looked like snowflakes forming. Names linked to names, linked to addresses, linked to crimes. Vlad’s life in one continuous all-encompassing graphic; this was what they had come for.


    Victor checked into the Balmoral, where, as previously planned, Sacha and Boris were waiting for his arrival. It was good to see his sons, though he was wary of showing this too much. Odd that being the product of a useless bastard father, he should then be so standoffish with them, packing them off to the west for an expensive education on the quiet. The wife had been upset of course, but what did she know of the lives of men. The distance would toughen them up, give them skills that would be useful when the time came. She would wrap them in cotton wool, safe from the outside world but this was not realistic. This was not how the business worked.
    Things changed however. Business evolved and moved on. They were learning how to network; indeed it could be said were ready networking with their future peers, ready to move things to the next level when their chance arrived.
    Sacha had run towards him when he entered the suite, throwing his arms round him. Victor had patted the boy on the head. He wore his heart on his sleeve, the younger of his two sons. Boris was more composed, accepted his father’s hand with a manly grip and a confident expression. The west agreed with both. They had filled out with good food but kept trim on the rugby pitch.
    “So what’s new boys?” he asked, unable to find a suitable opener. That was always a source of some awkwardness. They were, when all was said and done, from different backgrounds, different worlds. At Boris’s age he had been in the gulag, working on some networking of his own. He was not well fed and did not look like a rugby player, or for that matter know what the game was. The way things had been back then, he would probably have eaten a rugby player.
    “I’ve started doing Italian and I made it into the first team at fullback.” Sacha began, as his father nodded his approval while watching Boris in his peripheral vision as he shrugged his shoulders and went back to doing something with that tablet they were all so interested in these days.
    “…and if you mix hydrogen and oxygen in the correct amount you can make it explode with the mother of all bangs.” Sacha was saying now. It wasn’t that Victor had no interest in what his son was saying, more just that he was content to listen to the boy’s voice. It gave him the sensation all was well, with this part of his world at least. They were out of harm’s way. At least for now.
    The rage was there again at this thought. He knew this could be channelled, could be the very thing that ensured the status quo remained, but that his thoughts must be marshalled in such a way that they did not overtake him.
    They ordered dinner and the boys watched the new Bond film on pay per view while he attempted to clear his mind of all obstructions. Soon this would all be resolved. And then, all being well it would all be his. All of it. Just keep one eye on the prize he told himself.
    He looked again at the boys. They had no idea what they were to inherit.
* * *
    Sam Jones hadn’t really known what to expect through in Glasgow, at the hub of all things drug related. If she was honest, she hadn’t expected the home of the SCDEA to be quite such a hole in the ground. Maybe she’d expected too much, watched too many cop shows set in the good ole U S of A but a slightly more up market location and a building with a bit more presence wasn’t much to ask, was it? A carbuncle opposite a car hire depot on an industrial estate was hardly a shining beacon of law enforcement worthy of a forward thinking country was it?
    To be fair, most of what she’d seen of Glasgow involved nights out in bars a sight trendier than the ones through in the Burgh, and Gayfield Square was a similar monstrosity. Glasgow did look a lot more city scape than Edinburgh but even so she hadn’t expected something straight off the set of Blade Runner which it turned out was just as well. It looked a lot like they’d taken over a contact centre. Hardly glamorous, which was a bit of a surprise considering the way these arseholes liked to strut about the place.
    That Wilson one looked like someone had put vinegar in her coffee. Black, the small one with the big attitude needed a charisma transplant and Edwards, well, he was just sleaze incarnate. These two put Campbell to shame, although if ever anyone was deserving of a boot in the balls that one was. Ever since she’d given him the brush off at the Christmas night out it was like he was on a mission to expand the bounds of pedantry. Cock. She wondered if you could sue someone for sexual harassment on the grounds of looks and thought alone and then dismissed this idea as possibly a bit too 1984.
    Edwards just seemed to take himself a level too seriously though. The way he ran his fingers through that clearly high-lit hair of his. He really did give her the dry boke.
    She wasn’t sure how Burke remained so calm about the preening egos on display. Maybe he didn’t have much fight in him. Maybe he was just more of a middle manager than anything. He did look pretty pasty, spent too much time indoors you might say. Still, she’d have thought he’d have a little get up and go about him; all those stimulants he seemed to be on.
    At first glance she’d put his age around 27-28. She’d been a bit dismissive of him when he introduced himself; thinking he was an overfamiliar colleague having a go at giving her the chat as soon as she walked through the door. The job could be a bit like that and she was fairly used to it anyway, mainly finding it annoying. It hadn’t helped that he’d introduced himself simply as Burke. It was two days before she figured out he was actually the boss, and only then because Campbell had gleefully filled her in while trying to introduce her to the more social side of the station as he put it. “Funny kettle of fish” was all he’d really been able to confide, before adding that “there were some rumours floating about” and changing the subject back to an offer of an after-hours drink in The Cask and Barrel. Again, she’d declined.
    He drummed his hands on the wheel as they made their way down a slip road on to a mind numbingly gridlocked M8.
    “Timing’s never been my strong point,” he told her, messing around with a radio that had now lost the station, struggling as it did with the difference between east and west coast. He gave up and chose the CD already in the machine instead, which sounded like Green Day on a rough day, before they’d sold out. “I don’t suppose you like stiff little fingers do you?”
    “Sir?” was all she said in response.
    “The band.” he replied, looking slightly alarmed.
    “Oh.” she said, knowing full well. “No.”
    He switched it off, looking slightly dejected. Maybe it was a dose of Seasonal Affective Disorder that made him this way. She was sure he hadn’t had those bags under his eyes six months ago.
    “I suppose we should talk about the case then.”
    “Yes sir.”
    “Every second word doesn’t have to be sir.” He said. “This isn’t Full Metal Jacket. What are your thoughts on the case so far? I’m genuinely interested. After all, detection is what I do, supposedly, when I’m not being condescended to of course. So feel free to enlighten me; do you for instance subscribe to the Campbell hypothesis, stating that all this is the result of a drug war raging between two rival scumbag factions? Oh screw it. I need to smoke this thing.” He began rummaging in the glove box while at the same time trying to keep the steering wheel steady. They didn’t teach that on the advanced driving course. He pulled out an e-cigarette and put it to his lips, inhaling and then breathing what looked like a huge sigh of relief, blowing water vapour against an already condensation covered window. “This isn’t an infringement of your human rights by the way. It’s perfectly legal.”
    “Batter on.” She heard herself say.
    “It’s just a tad embarrassing.” He confided. “Anyway, you were saying?”
    “I was?”
    “Well no, but you were about to be I’m sure. So what’s the story? Is Campbell right?”
    He shrugged in response.
    “I’d prefer you didn’t tell him this.”
    “Goes without saying.”
    “I do.”
    Burke nodded his head slowly in what looked like contemplation, though for all she knew he could have been thinking nothing at all. Some people had mastered the art of merely looking thoughtful, much like her dad had mastered the art of looking as though he was listening when her mum rattled on about whatever DIY tasks she had in store for him on his holidays. “Assuming this is the case of course, it does imply that this might not exactly be the summit of the body pile.”
    “True.” She agreed.
    “In which case, I would imagine it’s only a matter of time before someone starts running a book on it.”
    It was true. Campbell had already broached the subject this morning.
    “What number should I put you down for?”
    “I’d say another two anyway. Although, I’d prefer it didn’t happen.”
    She nodded in agreement before remembering herself. These were, after all, human beings. It was far too easy to get caught up in looking at them as stats for clear up rates.
    “Purely from a selfish point of view.” Burke admitted. “These sudden puddins are getting in the way of my day to day duties as defined by she who must be obeyed, AKA Mrs Burke.” He smiled. “Which reminds me, I’ve got to pick up a Christmas tree from Gorgie City Farm before I go home or there’ll be hell to pay. Anywhere I can drop you on the way?”
    “Gorgie should be fine for me.”
    “Really? Where are you headed anyway?”
    “Marchmont. It’s a nice night for a walk.”
    “If you sure.” He said. “Still living that student life eh?”
    “I try.” She replied
    It was dark by the time they pulled up on Gorgie Road and she hit the frosted pavement. It felt like the air was damper now, as though the cold would cling to you and sink into your bones.
    She knew she was trapped in the student life, in a specific point in time, through her own choices.


    Sudden puddin’ number three arrived or was discovered at least in a more timely fashion; conveniently around half nine as the office, if not Burke’s brain had already swung into action. At least this particular murderer had shown something like consideration. As it turned out it was the cleaner who had discovered the corpse of the former Oleg Karpov around an hour before CID got word of the situation. On arrival at work and being in possession of a spare key, she had found him in the hall or maybe more accurately all over the hall, such were the forces involved in the ballistics used by criminal elements these days. Presumably Mr Karpov’s assailant had disapproved of the more traditional paisley patterned décor and favoured a more Jackson Pollock inspired theme employing a natural palette.
    He’d received the call in his office at least, far preferable to doing so while supposed to be in a state of slumber.
    He’d despatched Campbell and Jones before leaving and they were already on scene, suited up along with the forensics team.
    Burke donned a similar white overall and matching shoe covers and made his way across the Police line and up the driveway. His feet crunched on gravel, the reassuring sound of money.
    Being on a corner afforded the house more room, its façade was imposing and slightly gothic in comparison to its neighbours which were more standard Georgian box style buildings.
    He passed under a substantial entrance porch, nodding at the uniformed boy by the door. He recognised the face but couldn’t place it. Hazard of the job. In another context he might have mistaken the same face for one he’d put away.
    The hallway was vast, dark and foreboding. Burke wondered if this display was for the effect of warning off burglars. He half expected to see a stuffed bear in full hind leg standing frontal assault. A testament to the ‘bravery of Major Chumley-Something-Or-Other who’d shot the bugger on the way back from doing something colonial.
    It was like the setting for Cludeo. Only he didn’t think it was Professor Plumb in the drawing room with the lead pipe on this occasion, more likely some rocket with a Kalashnikov and most definitely in the hallway going on the amount of airborne claret.
    He realised he’d never seen anything like it, outside the realm of horror films and possibly even then not so much. How could a human being even contain that much blood?
    What looked to be some serious money’s worth of artwork had been splattered with a combination of different tissue types and some pricey looking china had been shredded along with half the wood panelling that made up the lower walls and the side of a grand staircase that you wouldn’t want to walk on now for fear of getting some nasty looking skelves through your best brogues.
    He presumed the vase had once sat on top of the granite plinth that now rested against the mashed remains of the space between the deceased’s ears. A chandelier lay across his back, having plummeted from its original mooring in the ceiling, probably after being cut out by a hail of bullets, judging by the circle of tell-tale holes. He wondered what all if this was worth, the usual trinkets the rich liked to surround themselves with, a Rolex Oyster here, a Tiffany lamp there. It all mounted up. There was no limit to what you could spend if you wanted to. They said that lottery winners were generally quite happy until they moved to a smarter area and then resumed the game of keeping up with the Joneses, just at a higher level.
    “So did he grab the plinth as he fell or do you think he had it pushed onto his head after the fall?” he finally asked; as Dr Brown’s beefy head moved around in shock, closely followed by his substantial jowls.
    “Jim, you need to watch that,” he replied. “My ticker’s not what it was and no offence but I don’t much fancy getting mouth to mouth from you.”
    “None taken,” Burke laughed “And likewise if I’m honest. I’ve considered having DNR tattooed on my forehead for that very reason.”
    “You might want to be careful though some of these places don’t have the best record on infection control,” the doctor replied without a trace of irony.
    “Well, what do you think did for this one?”
    “Oh I’d say Mr Kalashnikov,” Brown said, looking tired. “Either that or Mr Uzi.”
    “Was there a Mr Uzi?”
    “Haven’t the foggiest.”
    “Something to google when I get home.”
    “Anything standing out?”
    “Other than the fact that our killer or indeed killers over egged the pudding somewhat?” “Subtlety is a lost art.”
    “It is. They meant it though, that’s a certainty. You don’t manage to spray that amount of lead about the place without having to stop to reload a good few times.”
    “Good point.”
    “And they don’t seem to have been shy about finishing the job. I’d say they knocked over the plinth. The cursory look I’ve been able to get at what is left of his head indicates there isn’t much of a face left, which seeing as the plinth as at the rear of the skull indicates it has been rather shot up.”
    “So he wouldn’t have been able to grab it, that being the case?”
    “Well there is always the possibility. That’s why some marksmen, notably the SAS have a tendency to go for the mouth shot. Obviously part bravado, partly the fact it encumbers the primitive part of the brain and stops any twitching movements, shooting the hostage in the head as you laugh your last, that sort of thing. I’d say our boy here was a bit past trying to balance on a plinth though. We’re dusting the whole place for prints, naturally.”
    Burke made his way through the entrance porch back to the driveway and out onto the street where he found Campbell and Jones looking decidedly non-plussed.
    “Well what have you got for me?” he asked expectantly.
    “Not a sausage boss,” Campbell said rubbing his eyes like it had been a rough day, seemingly oblivious to the fact it was only half past ten.
    Jones shook her head, “Nobody saw or heard anything.”
    “I don’t actually understand it,” Campbell exclaimed. “It’s not like you can just rock up to a place like this, armed to the teeth like some kind of conspiracy nut, pummel the shit out of a house and its owner and go unnoticed. They must have made some noise, even with silencers, or at least been quite visible. I mean the guy had electric gates. You don’t just shin over them with half a ton of metal over your shoulder and not create a ruckus.”
    “Suggests he knew whoever it was doesn’t it?” Jones volunteered.
    “Not as well as he thought.” Campbell replied.
    “Who did you actually speak to?” Burke asked.
    “Aye well that’s the thing Sir. We spoke to the au pair on this side.” Campbell pointed to the left hand side of the house. Owners are a couple of lawyers but she said she was on all night and she never heard a peep. She sleeps on the side next to the victims house, says her employers didn’t mention anything at breakfast.”
    “What about the other side?”
    “Stay at home mum. How do people afford these places? Anyway she never heard a thing, sleeps on the other side of the building though. Kids aren’t old enough to be interviewed or at least make sense,” Jones said.
    “Maternal instinct’s strong with this one boss,” Campbell added looking at Jones, who frowned in response.
    “Over the road?” Burke asked, ignoring the pantomime act.
    “Couple of pensioners. Both seemed a bit doddery, possibly hard of hearing, saw nothing, they were busy watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel most of the night, that one about dolphins, classic, anyway the old boy fell asleep in his chair and woke up about one a.m. stumbled upstairs but saw nothing. His wife was out like a light already, she’d gone after the ten o’clock news. Didn’t feel up to Newsnight. Rock and Roll eh?” Campbell looked around for approval at this and finding no real interest moved on. “Next one along was another au pair. She wasn’t home but her employers were, so I’ll check back with them later, as well as with the other ones on the left hand side.”
    “Good stuff,” Burke replied. “Keep it up. You never know what you’ll turf up.”
    They both looked at him and nodded as he gestured for them to continue.
    He wandered back inside, past the accumulation of gore and through to the rooms beyond. To the left there was a fairly formal living area which seemed to double as an office. A large imposing desk sat at the far end of the room. It would have completely swamped most rooms but not this one with its high ceilings and imposing woodwork. The empty base of a think pad sat in the middle of the desk. He hoped Scene of Crime had that.
    To the side there were some brown chesterfields congregated round a granite fireplace, above which, there hung a flat screen looking more than a little incongruous. The previous day’s papers were scattered on the coffee table and various empty cups gathered dust as they waited to be cleared.
    Burke didn’t need to look much further to know Karpov was a single man.
    On the other side of the hallway stood a more formal living room, clearly never used, not a sign of a screen in there.
    To the rear there was a kitchen which had not as yet been anointed with the status they generally were these days, especially in this area. It was bereft of a glass extension. There was no AGA or even fitted units to speak of, just a tiled floor, some old cupboards and an overhanging washing pulley that had doubtless seen the smalls of generations. The empty food cartons told a story. This was a takeaway plating-up room. Nothing more. Clearly the maid had quite an uphill battle every morning. He wondered if she could be in the frame. Had he perhaps made her clean that chandelier too many times?
    He tiptoed across the now sticky red hall and found a dining room to the other side, table set in anticipation of something, though the cutlery looked to have gathered some dust.
    He carefully climbed the creaky oak staircase to the first floor and made his way into what must be the master bedroom. As in the case of the formal sitting room below, this sat on a rounded turret like section of the building, which faced south and got the best of the light owing to the vast semi panoramic window. This room seemed opulent in contrast to the others. A large amount of gold leaf and an almost over the top collection of neo-classical sculpture was on display, quite out of character with the rest of the house. An en-suite led off the bedroom. There were more flat screens in here. Burke found a remote by the four poster bed, switched the largest one on and was immediately accosted by the image of himself staring back from beside the bed. Interesting.
    There seemed to be no way of playing anything back at hand, so he would leave it with the forensics guys on the way out.
    The rest of the house again seemed fairly standard: another four bedrooms three of which had en-suites and all of which looked like they’d been decorated by someone looking to sell the place. There appeared to be an attic but no one had the key. He would see about getting hold of that along with the laptop later.
    “Any sign of security cameras Doc?” He asked as he creaked downstairs.
    “Give us time, Jim,” Brown replied.
    He was now leaning over the recently de-chandeliered remains of what Burke realised was a red dragon-kimonoed victim, picking up what appeared to be fragments of shattered skull with a pair of tweezers and placing them on sample containers of some sort.
    “I haven’t heard anything about any additional ones besides the ones on the front gate. That’s not to say they’re recording ones anyway, may just be a type of intercom with no storage.”
    “Might not want to have a record of comings and goings.” Burke agreed.
    “Didn’t matter in the long run I suppose.”
    “You might want to look at the hardware upstairs though.”
    “Really, how so?”
    “Well it seems our boy had his boudoir wired for playback. Couldn’t find any kind of storage though.”
    “Kinky.” The good doctor replied scratching one of his many chins. “Might be with that laptop we’re missing.”
* * *
    He called in at home on the way back to the station, hoping to cadge some kind of food now Rachel was up and about.
    The letter had arrived this morning, amongst the usual flotsam and jetsam issued by the banks and everyone else that was encouraging him to spend money.
    He left the bank statements in their envelopes as usual. And rifled through to the bottom of the pile. This one only caught his attention because of the fact it had nothing on it and must have been dropped off by hand, probably some kind of leaflet he thought. But the envelope seemed wrong, too expensive.
    He tore it open and pulled a letter from inside; cheap printer paper, inkjet printer, times new roman font.
    Dear Inspector Burke,
    Sometimes it’s best just to bury the dead.
    You might want to think about new arrivals instead of overdue departures.
    A concerned observer
    What the fuck? Who? How dare they? How could they?
    “What’s up? Energy bill gone up again?” Rachel asked.
    He hadn’t seen her. He wondered how much of his reaction she had seen. “Something like that,” he replied, pocketing the letter and the envelope, knowing it would be of practically no use. “I’m feeling the heat anyway.” He smiled, hoping that would suffice.
    Rachel smiled back but with a questioning frown.
    Everyone had inkjet printers these days and the thing about posh envelopes was that they didn’t require licking.
    He locked himself in the bathroom and threw up as quietly as possible.


    Giles Herriot-Watt stood on the harbour admiring the craft before him, like a man in his position may have admired the form of a fine thoroughbred steed in centuries gone by. She was something to behold; the Brentwood Viking, sleek, long, light and yet most importantly in possession of brutal power. Her red haunches shone in the winter sun as the gathered hack photographers and assorted slack jawed yokels took in her magnificence.
    Drink it in his inner voice declared. It’s more than you’ll ever afford.
    They lowered her down the slipway into the mouth of the cold river to much applause. She was suddenly alive, snorting fire, as the two man crew waved to their enthusiastic audience. The publicity was important of course. It was imperative they were seen to be doing such things, adding a touch of glamour to the area, giving them something they’d never see the likes of again.
    He cracked a bottle of Moet & Chandon; hardly Crystal but what did it matter on such an occasion. Not like anyone here would know the difference. He preferred to keep the Crystal he had expense accounted and use it to impress the ladies; the ones who knew the difference, the ones who knew what clothes to wear and were seen at the right functions, the ones with the right breeding. Again his mind turned to thoroughbreds. He appreciated the equine form, knew one end of the animal from the other. He could happily watch a race or three given the right quantities of the bubbly stuff and possibly some of the old marching powder. And polo; that was fine and obviously a decent social lubricant, but the horses didn’t like him. That was for sure.
    He charged the glasses of the local provost and a reporter from the Galloway Advertiser he might think about getting the number of later and smiled as he took it all in, this spectacle he’d created. Brentwood Viking roared to life on top of a foam pillow and her nose lifted as she powered along the side of the harbour. The crew waved at some local kids as they ran along the wooden walkways in pursuit. They tucked themselves down into their respective cockpits as she howled higher still and powered out into the bay for the nautical dressage display.
    “It’s a real boon for the area,” he heard the provost say and turned to say something along the lines of the firm being delighted but instead he couldn’t resist simply saying yes. The provost looked slightly wrong footed which of course had been his intention and Giles set about reeling her back in.
    At times he couldn’t resist saying such things just for the hell of it, just to screw around with people’s minds and challenge his manipulation skills. “As, of course is the area to us. I mean let’s face it where better to test in secret than a place such as this?”
    “True,” the reporter replied.
    “And as an added bonus I get to enjoy some of its,” he looked at the reporter, made a point of doing so, “more natural beauties.”
    She giggled slightly, covering her mouth in a modest gesture he heartily approved of. He knew what he would be doing for the rest of the week.
    “Of course it would be good if we didn’t go into too much detail, as we agreed. We don’t want everyone to know exactly what we are doing now do we?”
    “No,” she agreed, as the provost suddenly found she had somewhere else to be and Giles congratulated himself on being such a skilled manipulator of the press.
* * *
    John Campbell was in his element. The building he had entered felt as if it should be home. If cop shops looked like they did on CSI, this would be home.
    He announced his arrival with the receptionist who looked pissed off in that way people did when they truthfully didn’t give a flying fuck but wanted the world and his wife to think they did because, what? It made them a better person somehow? Hell no. Better to be honest than dish out conciliatory smiles that you could tell weren’t real anyway. The delicate turning up of the corners of the lips said concern but the eyes said “anyway moving swiftly on.”
    She probably never even knew the Ruskie boy. He wondered what it took to get a girl like that. Receptionists; they always seemed so snooty in a way that had the effect of only making him more interested. Maybe he should come out of the closet as a fully-fledged masochist, get someone to strap him into something and kick the living hell out of him while he begged for mercy, begged for more or whatever would happen when he embraced the madness. Half the time he was like a man picking at a scab.
    Another girl came out of one of the offices and greeted him with a smile and a visitors badge just as he’d settled on one of the cream leather couches and got his nose stuck in the latest copy of Heat magazine. He then had to do a bit of a manoeuvre whereby he put the magazine back down on the glass topped coffee table without her seeing, like it was a copy of Playboy and she was his mum. Truth be told he’d rather be caught with a copy of Playboy than Heat but he liked to keep abreast of the celeb situation. You never knew when that might come in handy if trying to salvage a conversation.
    She led him through the wall of glass and blinds to a full-on open plan office. A big sign taking up the wall of the entrance declared that this was home to several companies all of which fell under the umbrella of BCC Industries as denoted by the three letters in red blue and green plastic over all other organisation names.
    The PA who introduced herself as Laura, led him into an office at the back of the larger expanse. It was a fairly characterless room. The back wall was plate glass and looked out onto the water of Leith. A bland desk with a laptop sat in the corner, wires snaking off in every direction. He took a seat on a plastic Ikea number and waited. The water was fairly mesmerising. It must have been hard to get much done here. He turned as he heard the faint sound of footsteps on carpet.
    A business-like woman, probably early thirties greeted him as she walked through the door and gestured for him to take a seat again. She too, Campbell was pleased to note, was hot. She introduced herself as Nicole Bannister, with a firm business like handshake that seemed to match her pin-stripe suit.
    “I’m Operations Director here. Oleg’s second in command if you like.” She frowned and then her face was blank for a second or two. “Or I was.”
    “Were you close?” Campbell asked, pulling out his notepad.
    She laughed as she adjusted a lock of stray hair, replacing firmly behind her ear.
    “In as much as anyone was.”
    “How so?”
    “Well Oleg, wasn’t, well, wasn’t to say he wasn’t that kind of person.”
    “In what way?” Campbell asked, wondering as he did what was wrong with a man who wasn’t close to her. Karpov clearly had more money than God. That must have carried some leverage.
    “He didn’t seem to have anyone or anything much in his life outside work,” she replied.
    “No family?”
    “Not that I was ever aware of. He did have various connections back in Lithuania but I was always led to believe they were mainly business associates.”
    “No friends?”
    “None I ever met. He generally seemed to live for work, always here before I was and still hard at it when I left. I tried to keep up with him in the beginning but in the end, you know there’s just more to life.”
    “So they tell me,” Campbell replied. “Girlfriends?”
    “None I ever heard about. I’m afraid it’s a bit of a dead end all of this. None of us knew anything about him really. I just don’t think he cared for much other than work.”
    “Surely a man of means, he can’t have been too short of offers,” Campbell mused.
    “He wasn’t exactly George Clooney,” she replied, a small grin lighting up her face briefly, “but I suppose some people like that power thing. No one I know of though.”
    “Did he have any dealings with anyone which may have resulted in ill will of any kind? Was there anyone who may have made threats of that kind?”
    “Well he was in financial services not an industry known for its consideration of our fellow man. I dare say he’d crossed swords with a few people over the years, a deal gone wrong here or there, well, right for him and wrong for someone else, but that’s the way it works. Business men of Oleg’s calibre don’t tend to lose sleep over toes they’ve inadvertently trampled on, do they? And they also don’t tend to overreact and shoot each other. Not in my experience.”
    “Depends what business they’re in.”
    “I would imagine so. However, to my knowledge no, there was no one in the near past that bore Mr Karpov any serious ill will.”
    “No threats then?”
    “Ok Miss Bannister, that should be all for now. Oh you don’t happen to know where Mr Karpov’s lap-top is?”
    “No. At home I’d imagine. He’d be unlikely to leave it here. That might mean he didn’t have all the answers at his disposal for more than five minutes.”
    “Bit of a control freak was he?”
    “You might say that. Perhaps it would be more charitable to say that he had issues around letting go…”
    “Of the reins,” Campbell replied before he could stop himself.
    She smiled taking it in the humorous way he might have intended if he had actually meant to say it.
    “Can I reach you here if I need to?” he asked.
    She produced an expensive looking embossed card with her details and he briefly felt like he’d won the lottery, before telling himself no he mustn’t phone this one after a skin full. Not after what happened last time.
    He thanked her for her time and made his way out of the office
    He entered the toilet across the hall and finding it suitably empty, proceeded to chop out two lines of the finest product Columbia had to offer onto a granite sink top before rolling a twenty and snorting the whole lot in one u-shaped movement. Just a little pick me up. Who was going to stop him? New suppliers were easy to find, it seemed.
    He had thought of mentioning what his previous one had said about the possibility of losing her head to Burke, but he wasn’t sure. The boss had a way of disapproving of these things, along with a curiosity about most things and it might be best to avoid complicating the situation. It was hardly important info anyway.
    He looked at his ornate surroundings. The perks of executive life.
    Who was he kidding? He tore up her card and threw it in the bin as he left the building. Best not to go down that road.
* * *
    Victor sat in the office of his fallen comrade as he watched the police officer go. He pushed the balls on the desk toy back and forth watching them knock off each other, the two in the middle remaining static and the ones on the outside doing all the work. He could think of no better model for how the world of business worked.
    Executive toys they used to call them, this and the miniature pool tables, an assortment of curiosities for the feeble minded. Executive toys. He preferred his yacht. Now there was an executive toy. One for an executive in the truest sense of the word when the occasion had required it. Oleg was not feeble minded. Of course not. He would not have been allowed to enter the brotherhood were it ever the case. He had merely gone to seed in this place, which looking around this office, it appeared to be easy to do in these God forsaken parts, barely a sane one among them. A few months in the salt mines would do them good. Let them starve for a while, see how quickly they turned against one another
    He breathed a heavy sigh and returned to the view, catching a glimpse of his reflection as he did and briefly not recognising the old man that stood before him. Folds of skin had overtaken the youthfully sculpted jaw line and wisps of grey now flashed out of his eyebrows. The bags under his eyes sagged with the weight of the evil they’d seen and his hair hung limp and colourless across his wrinkled brow. His body was decaying. There was no fighting that. A nip and a tuck might stave off the visuals for a time, but underneath the foundations were beginning to perish.
    He would live on in his legacy and in his sons.
    Just a few more pieces had to fall into place. Some minor problems to be resolved and all would be well.
    Perhaps he would live out his days by a river he considered, as he briefly lost himself again in the water of Leith’s foaming torrent before he bit his lip and forced himself back to reality.
    Now was not the time. There was work to be done still.


    Andy had just about lived down the humiliation he reckoned, though when it really came down to it there was rarely any living down of any humiliation, perceived or otherwise. People round here had long memories.
    It was a powerful motivator. He needed some kind of revenge. Nothing major, nothing too severe, but something at least to save face.
    He’d asked around a bit. Where did the guys working at Baldoon live? That kind of thing. A team of workers arriving in a small town; someone should know something. They would be staying in someone’s husband’s granny’s daughter’s attic. Nothing. It seemed they were masters of invisibility. They couldn’t be nowhere. There were only so many places to go round here.
    So he knew what he had to do.
    It wasn’t like he hadn’t done stalking before. Of course he had. Not in an injunction provoking restraining order demanding sort of way, he’d never been a stalker of human form but he’d hunted down the odd deer. It wasn’t really his thing, too much waiting around. Being a low attention span child of the digital age didn’t really equip you for the joys of lying around in cold grass on the slim chance you might get a shot off.
    He’d asked Davie for his help, but the big man said no. He would be watching the golf from Augusta he said. That was where his priorities lay ‘rather than helping out a mate?’ Andy asked and in return he was granted a lecture on the fact that he was ‘laying it on with a fucking trowel’ and that ‘to be fair,’ Davie had ‘done a bit of bacon saving already this week.’
    He had a point, Andy agreed. It was never wise to provoke him head on anyway, like most people his size, he tended to assume he shouldn’t really be questioned in any way. Probably true, best not to anger it or risk incoming the wrath.
    He knew what he had to do and so in the spirit of adventure he got on with it.
    He had to hunt through the wardrobe for black clothes. He tended to wear rugby shorts or boiler suits which he now knew were actually fairly bright. He may have to rethink the wardrobe for next year he realised, maybe buy some of the skinny jeans and what not just to fit in with the rest of the students.
    Then he had a bit of inspiration and headed for his parent’s room feeling fairly chuffed with himself. He remembered a photo of his dad from the late ‘70’s or early ‘80’s trying to look like a young Tom Jones or something.
    He knew the auld yin would be too tight to throw anything out and after a good old rummage -which he would have admitted made him a bit anxious, as you didn’t want to find anything too risqué in your mum and dad’s possessions- he struck gold. There it was, the very same black polo neck the old boy probably thought made him look French or something back in the day.
    He pulled it over his head, bit tight and smelled a bit wardrobey but it would do. Next he needed bottoms and again Pater did not let him down. At the bottom of a box he found an old pair of faded black 501’s. Yes. He was in business.
    He donned the rest of the ensemble, completing it with a pair of old trainers and made for the kitchen, pursued by the delectable bouquet of mothball. He raked through the cupboards in the utility room and came up trumps, some black boot polish. Probably not the best for your skin, but he’d used whatever there was of his mother’s makeup left in the house while she was away and drawn a blank. He doubted colouring in his face with mascara or eyebrow pencil was a goer.
    He applied the polish in a considered manner, using stripes in a left flowing down side in order to look as much as possible like the SAS, or at least the actors you saw made up to look like the SAS in films, as this was the one place their existence was officially confirmed.
    He topped it all off –literally- with an old tourie from the utility room, selected the necessary electrical equipment ensuring the buttons were up to scratch, headed for the Landrover.
    He parked just after the road end. Diesel engines weren’t the best for stealth, but it was a windy night and the sound should be deadened by this and the woods he now carefully made his way through.
    The moonlight made everything fairly visible but stray clouds blew over every so often making for a few misplaced footsteps.
    The lights of the buildings were soon closer providing some much needed assistance. Emerging from the woods at a dry stone dyke, he ran along it keeping as low as possible. He rounded the end of the biggest of the barns and vaulted the dyke. Bastard. The motion sensor caught him as he tried to head along the back wall towards the drive. There was nothing else for it. He kept his head down low, sprinted for the far corner of the barn and threw himself over the dyke on the other side.
    He lay in his stomach as the damp started to seep through his makeshift saboteur outfit. He waited for the light to go out.
    He made his move and dived over the wall onto the grass at the other side. As he thought, he’d outrun the motion sensors, but he was further away now. He reached into his backpack and pulled out the night sites. They weren’t brilliant. He wouldn’t have relied on them in a battlefield situation but what could you expect from Russian army surplus?
    He moved swiftly knowing all too well that the large expanse of grass he was running over was uneven. The sites gave him a clue as to the lay of the land and cut down on the likelihood of a twisted ankle from an unexpectedly high or low foot strike. He hit lower than expected at one point jarring his ankle and his knee and causing an adrenaline spike that made sure the rest of his steps landed more consistently.
    As he rounded the last corner, seeing the light streaming from the window he needed, Andy dropped to his knees sliding along the wet grass and coming to a halt dramatically under the window.
    Slowly raising his head he took in the scene that emerged.
    The lights in the room were in fact low but the room was dominated by a huge screen, must have been 50 inches at least. The sporting event on display was accompanied by occasional giant stats and graphics.
    The room was unoccupied apart from a lone figure, whose head Andy could clearly pick out in silhouette above an ancient wingback chair as the light from the screen and a roaring log fire danced around distorting its shape more than normal. Now was the time. He selected the necessary electrical equipment from his pack ensuring to take the right preparatory precautions and took aim.
    He held his breath and fired. Nothing. He reloaded taking aim again after the correct amount of shoogle, fired and watched with gritted teeth.
    He felt a grin spread across his face as the screen went black, watched as the rotund figure on the chair scrambled around looking for his own remote control before switching the golf back on. As the figure sank back onto the chair, Andy took aim again. This time selecting the TV mode, scrolling down the menu and selecting Al Jazeera.
    He watched as Davie jumped up from his seat again scratching his head like the overgrown primate he was and frantically pressing buttons on the remote. Andy decided he would go for the caravan channel next possibly followed by Nikelodeon or one of the African Christian channels. He could keep doing this for a while.


    Burke made his way to the West End. He buzzed the archaic door at the Phoenix Consultancy and entered. He was greeted by and aging receptionist who offered a cup of tea which he gratefully accepted with the proviso that she put three sugars in.
    Fraser Douglas’s consultation room was more or less what he imagined a plastic surgeon’s office would look like. Two black leather couches flanked a marble fireplace with a heavy expensive looking vase as its centrepiece. Magazines related to the business of nipping and tucking adorned a coffee table and a series of splatted minimalist canvases their owner had no doubt paid through the nose for adorned the walls along with the standard centrepieces denoting qualifications awards and memberships.
    The man himself was probably around forty five. It was hard to tell as he had clearly foregone the type of hair replacement he recommended and performed.
    He bounded into the room like a cocker spaniel and they shook hands as Burke’s tea was delivered. Douglas sat on the arm of one of the couches and slurped on an espresso. He’d clearly had his teeth done as there wasn’t a coffee stain or natural shade of enamel on display in his mouth.
    “So you spoke to one of my officers this morning?” Burke began.
    “I did,” Douglas replied.
    “And at the time you didn’t remember seeing anything?”
    “No, well that’s not perhaps strictly true,” Douglas replied frowning.
    Burke realised he’d had his eyebrows done.
    “I hope we can keep this on the down low if you know what I mean.” Douglas gave Burke a look an actual spaniel might give someone with food; a kind of practised begging look, or at least he was sure that’s what he thought it would look like. The outside world rarely accurately reflected the inside of anyone’s brain and in reality it merely served to make him look like a cross between the ET and someone who was in the midst of a fright when the Botox properly kicked in. Forty five year old men really shouldn’t try to look cute in a begging way or in fact anyway Burke noted.
    “I have been engaging in what you might call a bit of an assignation,” Douglas carried on. “Can I ask that we keep this between ourselves?”
    “You can ask,” Burke replied “but I can’t really guarantee anything. That’s not strictly true. I can guarantee that you won’t be obstructing a police investigation should you see fit to fill us in on what you saw or didn’t see. I can also tell you that I will do my best to conceal your infidelity. But that’s as far as I can go.”
    Douglas had obviously been trying to put a positive face on it. His shoulders slumped forward and his features collapsed. He raised his eyebrows, wrinkling his brow in recognition. “I value my marriage inspector. Are you married?”
    “I am.”
    “Well then presumably you know how much that means and that you just want to live up to your better half’s expectations but that also, sometimes that’s just not possible.”
    “Sometimes, perhaps.”
    “I’ve tried to fight it off,” he said staring intently at a spot somewhere on the wall. “But I’m a remarkably weak man when it comes down to it.”
    Burke said nothing. He let Douglas continue knowing that this was a man looking to unburden himself.
    “It started last summer. I’d been going round the doors on the street, looking for sponsorship for a cycle ride I’m doing to John O’Groats and back. It was through the local Rotary club, a few of us were doing it as much for an excuse to put in some extra training before the summer, if only to look good on the beach. Vanity’s a powerful motivator. I should know.” He paused clearly expecting this to elicit a small laugh at the very least. “So I get to Oleg’s house around nine only to find him in a bit of a drunken state.” He looked at Burke who nodded, “well he was having a bit of a get together and he invited me in. It was only at that point that I realised there were no other men there.”
    “Really?” Burke replied. “In which case, who was there?”
    Douglas’s shoulders slumped forward again and he let out a long lingering sigh.
    “Professionals you might say.”
    “I’m sorry?”
    “Ladies of the night, escorts, call girls, hookers, call them what you will.”
    “And presumably having being invited in, you were then invited to indulge?” Burke enquired, already knowing the answer. Why else would he look so decidedly pale right now?
    “In my line of work there are of course ample opportunities for dalliances shall we say?”
    “No doubt.”
    “There is a bit of pressure involved. You take your chances to blow off steam while you can. I’ve already had more than one affair inspector, and my wife isn’t stupid. She caught me out twice and gave me an ultimatum as no doubt you’d expect. I suppose that’s what the cycling was about as much as anything. Escapism.”
    “Hardly the same is it?” Burke heard himself say.
    Douglas laughed a hysterical cackle, holding his head with both hands as though he might otherwise fall from his perch.
    “No inspector, it isn’t. What is it they call us? Mamils? Middle aged men in lycra, an entire generation of men trying to recapture their youth by regressing to the age of twelve. At least some people have the balls to become born again bikers but no, that’s too dangerous. I learned that from my days in A&E. No, nowadays we all dress up like Lance Armstrong, and get our kicks peddling down hills like we did when we were pre-teens.” He laughed again. The hollow laugh of the slightly desperate man.
    “I suppose if nothing else it’s healthy.”
    “Didn’t work out so healthy for me though did it?” he almost shouted, before remembering himself, “caused me to spend the next few months in a blizzard of cocaine and whores.”
    “So this became a regular thing?”
    “It did, every Wednesday and Friday night. I told my wife these were training nights,” he scoffed to himself. “Gave me an excuse to come in wrecked and immediately take a shower. I kept it up, the training on Monday nights, just to keep my hand in, kept my story consistent if you see what I mean.”
    “Must have been hard work.”
    “Not really inspector. People rarely see what they don’t want to. It can be fairly easy to hide in plain sight.”
    “You think your wife knew?”
    “I assume she has more than an inkling. But knowing something deep down and being confronted with it are not the same thing, are they?”
    “It must have been expensive.”
    “Not at all.”
    “Really? In my admittedly limited and strictly professional experience, coke and prostitutes tend to take a bit of a toll on the bank balance Mr Douglas.”
    “Obviously, but I wasn’t exactly footing the bill.”
    “Mr Karpov was funding your leisure activities in full?”
    “He was.”
    “And what did he want in return?”
    Douglas looked thoughtful for a moment before shrugging.
    “Not sure I know. I think he was lonely.”
    “I see. Expensive way to get companionship isn’t it? Surely a Labrador, or at a push a Thai bride would actually work out cheaper in the long run.”
    “I don’t know inspector. I’ve already told you that.”
    “In any case, accepting all of what you say about your relationship with the now deceased Mr Karpov, what details can you actually give us regarding his murder?”
    “None to speak of.”
    “No, save to say that he was involved with a dodgy crowd.”
    “A dodgy crowd?”
    “Well the man did have a ready supply of drugs and hookers didn’t he?”
    “As did you sir.”
    “I’m hardly Pablo Escobar Inspector.”
    “But you suspected Mr Karpov of being some kind of kingpin?”
    “Well possibly, what did I know? It’s not like I asked, but he was of Lithuanian extraction and I’m not being racist but..”
    Oh here we go Burke thought to himself.
    “Eastern Europeans perhaps have a different view of that kind of thing, culturally speaking.”
    So it’s more a case of xenophobia then? Burke thought. “And yet you freely associated with him sir?”
    “Well no,” Douglas replied, now looking a trifle confused.
    “So he was coercing, perhaps blackmailing you in some way?”
    “No Inspector. No I suppose I did freely associate with him as you put it. We didn’t discuss work.”
    “Just took illegal drugs and had sex with prostitutes?”
    “Look I’m trying to be helpful here,” Douglas said holding his arms out to the side in the age old way suggested he had nothing concealed. I have been totally honest with you here. “I haven’t involved my solicitor as I came to you in good faith.”
    “So you know nothing else?” Burke summarised. He’d been here long enough. The air in the room was starting to taste bitter.
    “In which case that should be all for now.”
    “We’ll be in touch.”
    “Am I what would you say immune from prosecution. Does this goes any further?”
    “We’ll be in touch.”
    “Can we keep this away from my wife? Inspector, I have tried to be reasonable in all of this. I am doing my best to be helpful in catching the criminals who did this to a friend and neighbour.”
    “It’s good of your sir.” And with that he was gone leaving Douglas to stew in his own juices. Funny how he seemed to think a medical degree gave him the right to flout laws as long as he did the big confession scene when it all went wrong. He must have been watching too much Oprah, much like his cycling hero.
    Doctor Brown had offered him coffee from a kettle he kept -probably against health and safety- in the lab but he always refused, feeling somehow that the stench of death might make its way into the water by osmosis or something.
    The ever downtrodden Brown was currently regaling him with a story about his recent golf holiday in the Algarve. Soon to be retired, he had squirreled away enough cold, hard cash over the years to set himself up a decent bolt hole out there and planned on living out the rest of his days in the relentless sunshine.
    “Until the start of the inevitable decline,” he pointed out. “There comes a point when one has to rely on the kindness of the NHS or whatever is left of it by the time they have all gone private. Had my teeth done while I’ve still got the readies.”
    He flashed a smile that was faultless and yet somehow just the right side of normal.
    “An implant here and a crown there should see me right till I shuffle off this mortal coil, eh Jim?”
    “My granny kept hers in a glass most of the time,” Burke volunteered before realising what he’d said.
    “I’m not quite as old as your grandmother yet,” came the response, “that said I’m always in the market for an older woman.”
    Brown flashed the teeth again as he nudged his young female assistant in the ribs causing her to roll her big blue eyes and shake her blonde head in protest.
    “And I’ve met some great grannies.”
    He was a walking HR issue. It was just as well he was close to retirement. Burke often wondered what the fabled Mrs Brown was like. The only description he’d heard from her husband consisted of the words battle-axe, harridan, harpy, fuhrer and managing director on the occasions he was inclined to be more charitable.
    “So I suppose we should get down to brass tacks. Can’t stand around listening to Jennifer’s gossip all day can we?” He nudged the assistant again before leading the way through to the autopsy room, which he referred to variously as his office or in more jovial moments his studio. As they gathered round the stainless steel slab, part operating table part sink, Brown was poised to pull back the plastic sheet covering the vast body of the ex-Oleg Karpov. “Interesting things were immediately obvious on the removal of the deceased’s shall we say tasteful kimono.” He lifted the sheet “I warn you this isn’t one of the more aesthetically pleasing autopsies I’ve had the fortune to perform,” he said in a tone of sincerity he occasionally deployed. He pulled back the sheet as far as the shoulders, showing a largely misshapen head caked in blood. The face was unrecognisable as the bullets had ripped their way through the top lip, right cheek, bridge of the nose and the entire left eyebrow. “Of course when the bullet hit the eyebrow the upper part of the face caved in, giving him his distinctly Neanderthal appearance down one side.
    “Do we know this is him for sure?” Burke asked fighting back the urge he had to heave.
    He’d seen some gruesome things particularly over the last couple of days but there was something about the face, or the loss of its form that really hit home. It was, after all, how people gauged each other.
    “Oh yes. Thankfully he didn’t have quite as good a dentist or perhaps wasn’t so fond as squandering good cash as I. He had a partial denture consisting of the upper four incisors and the left canine. Despite the bullet it was still in very good shape so we were able to run it past his dentist in good time thanks to the feminine wiles of my glamorous assistant.” Jennifer blushed slightly and Burke wondered if the old boy had a particular way of saying inappropriate things that got him off scot free.
    “So unless he has company, we can assume he wasn’t sleeping.” Burke said almost to himself.
    “Unless he was really vain,” Jennifer added.
    “True,” Burke replied remembering a story about someone choking on false teeth.
    “Had he had sex recently,” he added.
    “Haven’t got quite that far yet Jim,” Brown replied, “but will have a look under the bonnet and let you know. Same goes for the tox screen and ballistics report. Obviously so far we’re quite chuffed we’ve managed to identify the bugger. Certainly no traces standing out under black light but you never know.”
    “Shouldn’t that kind of thing stand? I mean bodily fluids; doesn’t that normally show up fairly easily?”
    “Well there were a lot of bodily fluids but not in that particular area. He made have had a shower or something though. Are you worried he didn’t get any before he went?”
    “Something like that,” Burke replied, leaving them to draw their own conclusions.
    “And so to one of the more interesting pieces of the puzzle,” Brown declared, pulling back the covers to the corpse’s waist.
    Between the bullet holes were various tattoos giving the man’s upper body the appearance of the world’s biggest embroidered pin cushion.
    “Bit like join the dots,” Brown said as he stood back to give Burke some space to take it all in.
    “Welcome to my world.” Burke looked on in awe at the network of drawings on Karpov’s body. The images were distorted by the bullet holes across the length of his abdomen, with pieces missing and others stretched by the cushy lifestyle Karpov had clearly led in recent years and the fatty toll it had taken on his body.
    On his chest was what looked like a crucifix, this was the focal point about which all the other art work seemed to revolve.
    His right shoulder bore what seemed to be an epaulette and on his left just at the base of the neck was a dagger from which countless drops of draining blood made their way downwards. A star adorned the opposite shoulder and a church with multiple spires, -Burke counted ten- dominated the left side of his chest, and a rose with thorns appeared to ooze out of a deep wound on the right.
    The whole scene seemed at odds with the image of the respectable businessman Campbell had painted on his return from Karpov’s office.
    “Russian prison tattoos,” Burke suggested knowing fairly well that this was likely to be the case.
    “That would be my bet,” Brown agreed, “not for the health conscious anyway. They melt down a boot heel and mix the soot with urine then inject the nasty mix through the skin using a sharpened guitar string and a modified electric razor.”
    “Hardly Miami Ink is it?”
    “Not entirely sure what that is but I’ll take your word for it.”
    Burke thought about explaining it was a reality TV show but decided against it. He made his way back to the cop shop via Greggs getting stuck into a much needed steak bake. He’d fancied a sausage roll but when it came down to it couldn’t face the idea of pork after the sight of Karpov’s gargantuan inked form.


    Davie and Andy eventually persuaded Colin into joining them on their reconnaissance mission. Davie had finally sussed Andy when the dog found him at the window and started barking. He’d almost started to think the ghost stories Colin had told him when they were kids had a grain of truth about them. It would be the first time anything he said made any sense, Davie had said.
    They rendezvoused at the brothers’ place, each of them wearing black. They donned the boot polish, ensuring they tried to outsmart each other. Davie for instance had “dick” written on his forehead following some ‘help’ from Colin.
    They synchronised watches and gathered supplies for sustenance in the form of two six packs and a couple of bags of Doritos. Colin wanted to take a couple of dips, a salsa one and a triple cheese one, but they told him it that it wasn’t a slumber party they were going to. “You say that like it’d be a bad thing,” He protested, probably picturing girls in pyjamas.
    They moved quickly, silently for once, along the side of the air strip that ran east to west; the now unused section. Time was they’d done auto testing down here in the summer months, the concrete proving the perfect surface doing handbrake turns and doughnuts before it had begun to look properly disused and gravelly. The land was starting to reclaim it now. Even concrete had a finite lifespan when going up against the natural world. Looking up to the light in the distance. He wondered how long it would take the soil to absorb Wigtown itself if they dropped a nuke tomorrow. Not long in the eternal scheme of things but for now the old county town glittered defiantly on its hilltop.
    Davie sparked up a fag making him visible at a distance as an orange dot bouncing along at a height of about six feet. Andy guessed he would be verging on bored already. He gave him ten minutes before he started moaning about it in the style of a kid demanding to know “are we nearly there yet” on a long car journey.
    He had the attention span of a goldfish, some of the same facial features too, or maybe it was just the red colour to him. There was a definite similarity in the gormless expressions of both. He could well imagine the big man circling around, seeing his reflection and remembering ‘I’m a goldfish’ every four seconds as his memory expired.
    They reached the crossover point, where the opposing strips intersected in the middle, and came to a halt. They were on open ground now and could see the perimeter wall. From memory, Andy didn’t think there had been a wall there before. As far as he could recall there had only been a knackered old fence where now there was an eight foot high wall in cast concrete.
    Light shone over the top of the wall from inside the complex indicating someone was still around. They squatted down on the balls of their feet in a dip where the concrete of the airstrip met the grass. Tradition, or at least the films they’d been brought up on, dictated that by now they should really be lying flat out on the grass viewing the scene through sniper sights, but the cold dictated that tradition was now null and void.
    “OK, so they’re most likely still in there,” Colin finally whispered. “So we need to split up.”
    “Eh? How?” Davie squealed, clearly not enamoured with the idea that he might have to hang out on his own for more than five minutes.
    “Think about it. When they actually leave we have no way of seeing where they go.”
    Davie nodded reluctantly. “Guess I’ll be going back to the car then.”
    “No sleeping though,” Colin added. “Andy, if you head over towards the entrance, but watch for any cameras down there I’ll stick around this area, make sure we’ve got a strong enough signal to relay the messages on these bad boys.” He produced three yellow walkie-talkies and dished them out to the other two. “Keep the channel clear,” he warned his brother. “When Andy sees them leave I’ll try and get to you and we’ll make chase.”
    “Fair play,” Davie replied, waking up to the fact he was going to get a comfy seat out of it. He tried hard to conceal the grin on his face as he fired up yet another fag.
* * *
    Victor knocked back another shot. He couldn’t get the stuff they had at home but the Stolichnaya wasn’t bad. He told himself he should stop as his mouth began to water in the tell-tale sign of impending sickness but automatically gave the barman another nod before he realised what he was doing. He didn’t like to push it too far, didn’t like to lose control in any sense, but on a day like today he reasoned, needs must.
    The barman replenished his glass quickly, ever mindful of the likelihood of a large tip. Victor raised his gaze skyward and tipped his glass forward in a silent toast to his departed friend. He would ensure Oleg had a send-off befitting his status. He wasn’t a religious man but he was a fervent believer in the old ways. His position meant he had a duty as a trustee of tradition. Without the traditions, the rules, they might be no better than common criminals. With the rules they were a force to be reckoned with. They had codes, a moral compass, a noble cause and right on their side.
    Plans would have to be made now. Networks evolved and groups were consolidated with the passage of time. That was just the way of it in the life they had chosen. He was used to having to think fast and adapt on the go. His childhood and he supposed his father had served him well in that respect at least. Nonetheless, it was hard to see the old guard dying out. Life expectancy wasn’t one of the perks of their business.
    He looked around the bar for prying eyes and found none. At this time of night and even after this many glasses of the good stuff, even the old dog he had become began to get restless. His habits were set from life as a younger man who wanted to go places with a drink in him; a younger man who wanted to meet women. Even now he felt the ghost of the young man inside, trying to grapple with the controls.
    At least here there were places to go, not like the time and place he had called his own so many years ago. Karl Marx; what a buffoon. Did he not realise that human beings were animals? Instead of hunting for money they had simply hustled for power and as before, those without lived a life of miserable servitude they were punished for trying to escape. In truth wasn’t the life he chose more honest? Wasn’t the life of a thief a fairly noble thing? He at least survived on his wits and used the skills he was blessed with. He’d never settled for life as a slave to the ideological fallacy, never given in to the state that wanted to control its citizens in order to set them free.
    No, whichever way it had turned out, Victor would take his chances every time. He chose life over existence and he would choose death over it also.
    He motioned to the barman again and the younger man made for the vodka bottle, stopping as Victor interrupted him, asking instead for the bill to be charged to his suite. He left a sizeable tip on the bar and made his way to the foyer. He had yet to see this town and there was no time like the present.
    He looked round and caught a movement in his peripheral vision. He remembered his escorts. Dumb and Dumber were his assigned security detail it seemed. He wondered if whoever had assigned them had done this for his benefit or their’s. In any case they were not experts in the ways of stealth. He’d spotted them in the mirrors behind the optics when they’d shuffled into the bar drooling some ten feet behind him. Presumably they’d been told to keep a low profile. He exited via the front door and cut sharply left as soon as he hit the outside air. It was dizzying and he felt unsteady as he ducked behind a sandstone pillar.
    His crack security team emerged behind him as predicted. They stood on the steps of the hotel looking left and right in a state of abject confusion as Victor laughed for the first time in a long time. When they started arguing, which seemed a one sided affair whereby the smaller one aired various grievances against the bigger one, Victor had trouble following the conversation with the speed of their accents. He grew bored of it and finally relenting, stepped forward from behind his pillar.
    “Gentlemen,” he boomed, rousing them from their now detailed discussion on “the fuck ups of today.”
    “Eh, oh,” the small one started. “Sorry boss, I mean sir. We didn’t, I mean we’re not supposed to ehm.” He was a study in awkwardness.
    “I guessed this,” he replied.
    The small one looked at him like a salmon he’d just caught and stunned. The larger one simply regarded the pavement.
    “Clearly surveillance is not your strong point.”
    “No boss,” the big one said, eyeing him briefly before casting his gaze back to the floor.
    “Well then, you must tell me where your skills truly lie.”
    They looked at him through a haze of collective confusion and he pictured the cogs inside their heads, or perhaps gambling machine wheels; that was more like it. The wheels spun as the pair hoped to hit the correct combination and come up with the correct response.
    “I propose this. As we are no doubt destined to spend the evening together, how about you show me the sights of this city of yours?” Victor eventually said.
    “Aye, I mean yeah, sure,” the small one agreed, still stunned and perhaps a little suspicious.
    “I ask, of course, that you don’t inform anyone else of this. Obviously my dear friend Oleg has passed away and I would prefer not to be disturbed by anyone finding out where I am.”
    “No problem.”
    They stood, nodding in the way only people who don’t know the answer to something could, as though waiting for a cue. “Where to first then boss?” the small one finally asked.
    Victor shrugged. “You tell me.”


    Burke was thinking of heading home. It didn’t do, he knew. Higher up heads would doubtless shake in unison at this; murderer or murderers on the loose and the D.I. heading home at what could quite sensibly be called tea time. But higher up heads were often shaken where he was concerned. That was just the way he worked. Sometimes you had to step back from the problem and focus on something else for long enough that the solution might appear in the passing. They said that about magic eye pictures too though, and he’d never been any good at them.
    He rubbed his eyes, only to feel them sting more violently. He wasn’t designed for the indoor life. The controlled environment put everything out of whack. In this case the heating system, desperately trying to fend off the effects of the encroaching “big freeze” was overdoing it a bit and causing his head to sweat, which in turn seemed to be melting the moulding clay in his hair causing it to run down his forehead and into his eyes, creating just the right amount of sting and irritation. In summer the air con would dry out his eyes causing the tear film to disappear and make every movement of the eyelids painful. Still, simple linear cause and effect was a thing to behold.
    If only the rest of the world was as easy. If only this case, or these cases or indeed whatever the hell it was, could be so easy. And yet it was in a sense, all just one big mathematical equation, cause and effect flowing in many different directions all at once. That was what he loved, hated and got lost in. Like all equations it balanced, made sense. You just had to stand far enough back to get a swatch at the bigger picture.
    He stared at the I2 diagrams on the big screen in the meeting room. He remembered the days you had to do this with a board, some pins and a ball of wool. You couldn’t zoom in and out of that or stick it on a slide and email it.
    Even chance was an illusion. Burke was a fatalist. They were always going to do what they were always going to do because of background, circumstance, genetics, diet, whatever, and he was always going to lock them up if he could because he needed to solve the puzzle, just as he had to do things in fours when no one was looking. It was pathological. He couldn’t help it any more than he could help deciding to help it because that electrical signal would always take that particular path that offered least resistance though people liked to allow themselves the illusion of free will.
    He couldn’t moralise about it. It was just what it was, best treat it as a game, but one he played to win.
    He felt his stomach churn and realised he hadn’t eaten since breakfast, electing instead to stave off hunger with caffeine and nicotine, the super model diet. Rachel had recently read an article about people being predisposed to types of addiction due to a lack of dopamine, or was it due to a lack of dopamine receptors in the brain? He forgot. Whatever. He was a third generation addict. It might go back even further but no one was around to say. The previous two generations had expired, though not through their addictions. He was a first generation teetotaller. That was surely something.
    He had survived on stimulants for a few years, maintained the svelte physique of an anorexic snake due to being a lazy instant past guzzling single man until the point of meeting Rachel. He probably didn’t realise it but he’d been hungry all along. She filled a void he hadn’t known was there, emotionally but also nutritionally, to the tune of two stone. And now he couldn’t stop. Was it better to die of a heart attack due to fat or stimulants? Either way you got there in the end.
    He hedged his bets, ordering a Dominos pizza while inhaling the toxins from his fake fag, just as the mobile buzzed its way along his desktop. Dr Brown’s number was on display as it plummeted over the edge before hitting the floor and separating into its constituent parts.

    Brown had decided to stick around for a while, perhaps due to some misplaced sense of duty or perhaps the constant jibes about Mrs Brown had a grain of truth to them.
    Burke felt a sense of deja vu on arrival at the morgue, despite the fact it was a lot darker and colder than it had been on his previous visit. He’d cancelled his takeaway, his nose twitching at the prospect of a sliver of new information.
    Doc Brown looked haggard, slightly doddery compared to his normal self. It could have been the time of day. He seemed smaller somehow as though he’d wilted as the sun went down or someone had let the air out of his tyres. What was left of his hair stood on end reminding Burke of The Prodigy’s Keith Flint.
    He had one and a half specimens under covers on adjoining slabs. Vlad the Inhaler’s head could clearly be seen under one cover and the other it transpired was home to body number two.
    “Something was annoying me about our friend Mr Petrovsky,” the good doctor began. “I had some time on my hands. Believe it or not it has actually been a comparatively quiet week given the time of year, so I took some time to mull it over and dig a little deeper.” He uncovered the head which looked to be considerably more shrivelled than previously and gently moved it round to face Burke. “Note the slight abrasions to the nose and forehead. I had discounted them at first if I’m totally honest, thought perhaps they’d happened when the witness dropped him and he hit the pavement.”
    “OK,” Burke replied. I’d probably have thought the same.
    “You see these marks here?” Brown continued as Burke nodded at the spots on Vlad’s head which had been shaved, revealing more abrasions. “These are actually where he hit the ground. You see? Less like the grazes on the nose and forehead.”
    Burke nodded again, wondering where this was going.
    “I had my suspicions so I took swabs from the grazes along with samples of the nasal mucus.”
    “Brick dust.”
    “Brick dust? So what, he got his face scraped on a brick wall?”
    “He did that. And looking closer at his scalp,” Brown motioned to an area of what was left of Vlad’s hair which lay askew compared with the rest of the direction of growth. “You see how this area is disturbed slightly?”
    “Think yours might be like that too after a night like he had.”
    “True, what there is of it, but the point is that he’s missing a few hairs in this area.”
    “I see, so you think someone held his hair by this point?”
    “Now we’re getting there. And what else can we deduce from this information?”
    “He was offed by a left hooker,” Burke answered, partly telling himself this. “They had him face first against a brick wall so he got scratched and inhaled some dust. They had to hold the head with the right hand and hack with the left, assuming it was the same person, which I’d say it probably was.”
    “Well I don’t think I’d hold his head while you hacked away at it with a machete,” Brown agreed. “Much as I trust your steady hand,” he added pointing at Burkes shaking paw. “Smoke less Jim, exercise more.”
    “I’ll try,” Burke agreed, neither meaning it nor taking it too seriously. “Are you able to find out what kind of brick dust it is? Where it comes from possibly?”
    “Of course,” Brown replied matter-of-factly, as though the question was scarcely worth the effort of answering. “It’ll take some time though, a couple of days at a civilised time of year, so hopefully we’ll hear before Christmas.”
    Burke scoffed a tired laugh. “Anything else?” he asked.
    “Regarding the headless henchman, no, but as for this fellow.” He pulled back the second cover revealing the body of the garrotting victim. “We’re still checking for dental records, nothing so far. He has several fillings, all done the expensive way with the white stuff.”
    “Everyone’s paranoid about mercury these days. Even yardies eh?”
    “Indeed they are, although when it comes to symptoms like memory loss you’d think they should be more worried about twenty first century living and its inherent lack of focus.”
* * *
    Andy checked the time on his wrist. 21:07. They’d been here for the guts of four hours now and they weren’t too sure what was going on with their targets. They’d relented to Davie’s constant whining about wanting some scran and after winding him up for an hour -they had time to kill- they’d allowed him to go to Wigtown to replenish supplies at the Co-op. He’d turned up over an hour later with a couple of big bags of Doritos and a selection of pre-packaged sandwiches he said he’d finished up getting from the Shell garage in Newton. He’d needed to have a cheeseburger fresh from the microwave he said. He was a lot like a pregnant woman really, constant cravings, an excess of hormones and a not insubstantial belly. Rumour had it he had been tested for hermaphroditism on account of the size of his man boobs. Andy knew it was a rumour as he’d been in the pub when Colin started it.
    Davie seemed a little more contented having scoffed the cheeseburger, or the two cheeseburgers it had turned out to be, so much so that after downing a litre of Powerade, seemingly oblivious of the fact it was supposed to be a sports drink, he fell asleep. Colin ensured this didn’t become too deep a slumber by throwing clods of frozen earth at his beloved car. The big man responded by bombarding the airwaves with expletive ridden transmissions questioning his brother’s parentage.
    They couldn’t stay still for long. Despite their being well wrapped up the cold was bitter, made all the worse by the damp in the air. It was oppressive and all encompassing. This strip of land had once been waterlogged. It doubtless soon would be again and the mists clung to it at the best of times. They moved back and forth between the car and the airstrip. Emboldened by the peace so far, they walked at full height, hardly bothering to keep quiet.
    Davie’s music got louder and he decided to demonstrate the perfect handbrake turn to Colin, regardless of the fact there was a layer of frost on the ground. He flicked on the not strictly road legal blue neon strip lights under the car, lighting up the tarmac underneath with an eerie glow. After some showboating and a few serious claims regarding Colin’s assertion that his younger brother’s ego was writing cheques his Peugeot couldn’t cash, Davie was primed for action.
    He began at one end of the track running along the side of the airstrip, revving the engine and preparing with a few minor wheel-spins. When he was ready, the music was turned up decisively and Kanye West blasted from the back of the car, competing for attention with the drilled exhaust pipe. He finally let the clutch out for the last time, and starting with a triumphant wheel-spin that must have extended several metres and taken several thousand miles off his tyres, he made his approach.
    From Andy’s vantage point, out on the far side of the airfield, he watched as the light show took shape. The blue lights under the car and the matching bulbs he’d seen fit to install in the headlamps lit up the woods to the other side. As the car tore along the side of the fence the light spread out across the strip, distorting, flickering and moving as Davie crossed each fence post, making the whole thing look as though it was happening on black and white cine-film, even if it was anything but silent.
    He came to the end of his run up, swerved to the right ready for the handbrake and understeered, continuing in a straight line on the ice as the front wheels failed to respond to their orders. Without warning they bit properly and the car lurched forcefully in the desired direction but he’d overdone it. Andy’s heart jumped into his mouth and all he could do was stare. The car spun once, throwing light around the whole area, and then again and again. Each time it looked as though it should surely slow as the foreshortening took effect but each time it continued headed towards an inevitable sickening crunch. It never happened. The car finally came to a halt as all three breathed a sigh of intense relief.
    The words “Am OK,” broadcast over the CB band confirmed all was well. He didn’t seem to have any witticisms for once.
    Andy shook his head and wandered off down the strip towards the entrance to the complex, feeling a surge in confidence brought about by the idiot’s lucky escape and resolving to bite the bullet.
    He moved slowly but purposefully, leaving the Chuckle Brothers to dissect the events of the past few seconds and pushing himself to get to the entrance before common sense kicked in and he thought better of it. He made it to the south side of the strip, passing the old wind sock which hung limply, bogged down by the weight of ice crystals and began to hear an engine. He marched faster now, all thoughts of common sense banished from his mind, all thoughts of anything other than getting a sneak peek at what was inside and where they were going.
    He reached the corner of the new wall and the large gate he’d been unlucky at earlier in the week and began what his father would call skulking. He saw the lights coming as they reflected on the other side of the road and dived for the protection of the fence.
    “Incoming,” he rasped into the radio.
    “Eh?” came the response.
    “They’re on their way.”
    “Shit. I’m on it,” Davie replied, as the lights from his car died down and he could be heard wheel-spinning on to the road again, clearly subscribing to the theory of brute force and ignorance in respect to off-road driving, or at least getting back on to the road.
    “Hold on, I’m coming,” Colin shouted, as the Peugeot fell quiet again, waiting now in whatever equivalent Davie had of stealth mode.
    “Move it lady-boy,” was Davie’s response as Andy held his breath and waited.
    The lights from the complex grew brighter until he was almost blinded by a mirror some conscientious health and safety type had seen fit to install on the other side of the road. He could make out the vehicle and the silhouette of someone climbing into the passenger side. The car accelerated towards the mirror before passing him as it rounded the corner and roared off. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected but this wasn’t it; a black possibly dark blue people carrier headed down the road towards the side track where Colin and Davie waited. A new people carrier just seemed all wrong somehow. They didn’t pay that much in these places did they? Maybe it was the boss’s. In any case, it wasn’t quite as strange as what he now saw before him. Clearly they weren’t planning on going anywhere soon. They’d left the gate open and the place lit up like Christmas.
    “Something’s up,” he radioed the other two.
    “The chickens have flown the coop,” Colin radioed back.
    “I’m serious.”
    “Hang on,” came the reply, as Andy saw the lights of the people carrier turn down the track they were on and slowly pass the Peugeot.
    “Shit,” Colin blurted into his handset. “There must be four of them in there and they’re fucking massive.”
    The people carrier came to a halt and everything went quiet for a few seconds.
    “OK man, were gonna have to run but we’ll be back in five,” Colin said as he heard the Peugeot rev up and drive away at speed.
    They’d bottled it. Andy felt a little let down, not to mention a little cold at the prospect of hanging around here for much longer.
    In the rounded mirror on the other side of the road he could just see through the gate. Light seemed to be coming from what looked like an industrial porta-cabin in the middle of the nearest of the open sheds. He was curious now. He decided a trip across to the ditch on the other side might be a good call; better vantage point, better cover and a better chance to see who came back in. They would be back soon surely, must have got annoyed with the nutters driving up and down the track bordering the company property and decided to go for a bit of friendly intimidation. It seemed a bit full on though.
    Curiosity got the better of him. Fuck it, you’re only young once, he thought and ran across the road, slipping on the ice and landing heavily with a sickening thud on his elbow. He rolled into the ditch.
    That had hurt. In his experience it always hurt more when you’d been over-confident five seconds before. He tried to inspect the wound. He could feel the trickle of blood inside his sleeve but he quickly decided against looking at it with the light on his phone when he heard the diesel engine of the people carrier returning. He couldn’t see the headlights due to the amount of light pollution inside the complex which was now spread out in front of him. It was indeed a large porta-cabin in the shed near the gate. No expense spared.
    He felt his elbow throb. The blood ran down as far as his wrist as he yanked up his sleeve but there was no time to think about that now. He really had the urge to find out what was inside. He would just go for it. Why not? He could shin over the wall afterwards. It hadn’t been the plan, wasn’t the real point to them being here but it might be a laugh. After all, there was no law of trespass in Scotland, was there? He was considering this some more when he noticed the cameras and remembered Colin’s warning, just as the people carrier rumbled round the corner on its way back, just before it came to a halt and the door slid open and just before he was asked if he wouldn’t mind stepping inside.
    What could you do? It seemed rude to say no to a man with a Kalashnikov.


    Victor thought it had been a fairly simple request; “the sights.” He wanted to know where the locals drank, enjoy a night he might otherwise not and try to forget his woes. Clearly all Edinburgh’s residents lived a lifestyle of decadence and liked to pay a high price for their drinks or the small one, who he now had been ordered to call Billy and the large one who was apparently called Keith had decided to take him to the places he might like to drink in Edinburgh.
    “Down that George Street,” Billy had immediately suggested, causing Victor to wonder if there was another.
    “Aye,” Keith had added, giving weight, quite literally, to the suggestion.
    Victor acquiesced and they made their way a couple of blocks along Prince’s Street, crossed a large square and found themselves on the aforementioned George Street. It seemed alive, even at this time on what he was fairly certain was a Wednesday night. A group of girls walked past, scantily clad for the season and he found himself wondering if it was the junk food that kept them warm. Why weren’t they wearing enough clothes? Was it some kind of act of bravado? It was colder in Vilnius and people were probably harder but no one dressed like that.
    They made their way to the bar. It was busy in here and the high ceilings gave the place an echoing feel, the lack of any music serving to amplify this further. Billy ordered them two double rum and lemonades each, Captain Morgan’s finest apparently and they began drinking at a steadily desperate pace.
    Though Victor felt a duty to drink them under the table on the grounds of patriotism, he realised it might also be a good move to stand firm on the pace, make them wait to order, stamp his authority on the situation. The rum seemed moreish though and he racked up a few more during the next hour, listening to stories of somewhere that sounded like it was called Site Hell, but that couldn’t be right, surely, could have been Sight Hill.
    They moved on with each round of drinks, refused entry here and there, on the grounds of Billy’s appearance or manner as far as he could tell. The doorman clashes seemed set to be a theme of the evening. He could see their point in many ways. He was small, wiry and underweight, the type that often felt they had something to prove, maybe liked to start trouble. He’d seen it before; you looked a certain way and people treated you a certain way. It was a self-perpetuating thing. Still, it was strange, the way some people wore sportswear and looked as though they were out for an afternoon run and others did the same and looked like they were on the run. Not that he was one to judge.
    They ended up in the Alexander Graham Bell, having walked the length of George Street. They were hemmed in by a crowd of drinkers, young ones, clearly intent on getting seasonally out of control.
    That was where it happened. Thinking about it later, he would have admitted that it had been inevitable; a man with a bad attitude, a belly full of drink and too many others in close proximity. It was a tinderbox.
    He was telling a story about something, Victor wasn’t even sure what that something was, and he went a bit too far with the accompanying arm movements, spilling someone’s drink, a student perhaps, bigger in stature but softer in nature than Billy. The boy looked at him with the wrong facial expression for a fraction of a second but that was enough. Billy snapped. All the pent up Napoleonic issues converged. He’d been trying to impress. This was his day in the sun and now this young man had offended him, inadvertently and unwittingly bringing him back down to earth with a bump, in front of the big boss as he saw it. He had lost face and so, in Billy’s mind at least, it seemed right that the younger man should too, quite literally, by way of a bottle.
    There was no blood at first, just sudden movement. And then the blood had caught up, spilling out of the student’s mouth and down his nose. Billy looked like he was making to leave as the student’s friends, the ones he hadn’t thought about suddenly came into play.
    Retribution was swift in the form of a punch in the face from a big guy in a rugby shirt, at which point Keith waded in and the whole place erupted. The tightly packed crowd surged first one way and then the other and Victor lost his footing, tripped on someone’s shoes, a girl he thought. His body went out from underneath him as his feet became jammed together and he started to list. He grabbed for something shiny, a table maybe, but he couldn’t reach and then he felt his head move suddenly, violently, in one place one second and another the next with no discernable travel. Then the pain hit, along with the realisation of what had happened.
    After that it was over. In time honoured fashion the red mist descended. He lost control and before he knew where he was he’d taken down at least four men thirty years his junior.
    And now he found himself in the back of a police van, cuffed, game over. When they’d taken him or he’d let them, knowing it was check-mate, he realised he had a broken wine bottle in one hand and a barmaid under his arm.
    “Looks like were in the shit now chief,” Billy volunteered, conspiratorially. “Barry night though,” he added.
    Victor wondered who this Barry Knight was. Perhaps a cheap lawyer. In any case they were not in this together. He dispensed a look that he knew would leave Billy in no doubt about this and gleefully watched as he shrunk back into his corner.
    This was an error of judgement, a potentially costly one. You never let your guard down. Not when the stakes were this high.
* * *
    Giles Herriot-Watt had enjoyed a fairly pleasant evening, all things considered. Following the press call for the boat launch, he had decided to do some entertaining and invited Jennifer, the local reporter to lunch.
    He hadn’t actually known where to go, given that he was not a native of the area, though neither, he discovered, was she. “So what brings you here?” he asked, interested to know why someone would give up on the chance to write for The Herald or The Scotsman, assuming they were good enough, in exchange for going to work for a local paper. He’d seen them, only weeks ago, during research for today’s charade, running a story about three sheep nearly being wiped out on the A75. He thought the headline had been something like “Three sheep in daring rescue from A75.”
    “It was,” she confirmed. “I thought I used a more understated turn of phrase, compared to the one my editor wanted to use.”
    “Which was?”
    “Three sheep in death road shock, or something along those lines.”
    “Sensationalist is he?”
    She took a sip of her wine and smiled. “Used to work for the tabloids until his wife made him quit his job and take this one in aid of a quieter life. Something to do with his blood pressure. I’d say he might be better off drying out and quitting the fags if it came down to it.”
    “Quite. Isn’t that a hazard of the game you are in though?”
    “Isn’t being a lying toe rag a hazard of the game you’re in?” She countered, with a grin.
    They were in the Isle of Whithorn, not so much an isle as it was now firmly joined to the mainland and more of a village, she explained. In years gone by smuggling was rife on this coastline. Many of the farmhouses had hideaways under staircases. Many outbuildings had fake floors. One in particular had a limekiln which was movable in order to stockpile rum, brandy, or whatever from the dreaded hands of the excise man. “It was remote,” she explained. “Still is,” she added with a grin.
    Giles choked on his white wine as it made a brief detour the wrong way and stared out at the boats as he attempted to recover. They were in the Steam Packet, its windows affording a view of the isle’s harbour, the church seemingly built into the water and the houses on the shore beyond.
    “There’s even a rumour that one of the places involved, a farm near Monreith, has a tunnel to the beach from the old abandoned farmhouse. The house itself is in the wrong place. It sits on the far side of the farm, rather than where it should be traditionally, in front of the farm to stop intruders. I’d really love to get some aerial photos taken.”
    “Google Earth?” He suggested absent mindedly.
    She laughed at this, flicking her hair behind her ears. “I meant infrared photos of the area. If your clients are allowing anyone to fly in and out of Baldoon that might be interested in that kind of thing, you could let me know.”
    He felt a bit of a set up at hand. Was this why she’d agreed to lunch?
    He dropped her off back in Wigtown and headed back to Kirroughtree and his salubrious digs. The ancient hotel was empty this time of year and he single-handedly kept the bar open for a while, before falling into a fitful sleep.
    He woke sharply at three am as the phone blared in his left ear. His head pounded from the effort of reading the display on the screen and answering it nearly brought his stomach contents out along with his words, which in this case were restricted to “Giles” followed by “what!?”
    He crawled out of bed and staggered towards the bathroom, sticking his fingers forcefully down his throat in order to get rid of the remaining alcohol. He brushed his teeth, showered and made a cup of coffee, if he could describe instant as such, before donning his best Saville Row suit and doing a cursory check in the mirror. Perfect. Time to go to work.
    The people carrier waited by the front door probably disturbing staff and whatever guests were around.
    The sheep would doubtless return to the land of nod. Meanwhile, the important people had things to do.
* * *
    Andy sat on top of a wooden pallet, which in turn sat on top of another bearing an industrial sized bag of lime. He might normally have been relaxing sitting on something like this, probably somewhere in a field, taking a break from spreading the same stuff as fertiliser. Not in this case.
    His feet were attached to the pallet below with a cable tie and his hands were tied to the one he sat on with another, close to the small of his back in the most uncomfortable way possible. He couldn’t lean back in the way he wanted to. They’d made sure of that. The only option was to hunch forward like a broken man or try to sit straight. He chose the latter.
    This was taking things a bit far surely, wasn’t it? All he’d done was a bit of sneaking around. There was no law against that. On the other hand he was pretty sure those were unlicensed Kalashnikovs and there most definitely was a law against that.
    They hadn’t actually done anything to him, save for a bit of a cuff round the ear with the butt of one of those guns when he’d demanded they let him go and started to kick off. He’d got the message. They were serious but he wasn’t sure why. This kind of crap didn’t wash round here. That was what he’d been trying to tell them, but that didn’t seem to wash with them.
    He was in a large warehouse with a lot of lime and not much else. He faced a brick wall, cobwebbed probably from sometime around the Second World War. It was quiet in here. The wind whistled and moaned through the aging roof and the only other sound he heard was the scurrying of something, probably rats. He hated rats. It was a toss-up which was more intense; his hatred for rats or for the adders you couldn’t walk a hundred yards without meeting on a sunny day down on the farm. He’d give anything to have that problem now.
    The vastness of the warehouse was behind him, so he couldn’t see what was going on but he knew they were gone for now. In a place this big and this quiet echoes travelled. Hitchcock couldn’t have thought up psychological torture better.
    The last time he’d felt this petrified it had been his TB vaccination that caused the upset. He’d missed it the first time and the boys at school had taken great pleasure telling him about the long needle scraping the bone as it went in too far. It had been a non-event in the end. That didn’t mean he hadn’t spent days worrying about it, every time the door opened and someone came into or left the classroom. Three days they’d been in school, catching up with the victims they’d missed and three days they’d kept him waiting: hell on earth. Ever since he’d been very much a believer in getting things over and done with quickly; pull the plaster off in one go before you even feel the pain.
    He’d be very grateful if they’d just give him a kicking and send him on his way.


    Burke had been unable to get any shuteye. Images of spirograph generated crime networks floated in his head, along with dead soldiers, both criminal and actual.
    He didn’t like loose ends, not that there were any tied ones yet, but it was increasingly looking like a many splintered thing, an equation that took in too many factors to allow him to sleep the sleep of the just.
    He wouldn’t tell Rachel he’d decided. There were certain types of information he could impart when it came to his job and certain types he couldn’t. He’d learned that through hard won experience. She’d only freak out, and that couldn’t be good for her or the baby.
    As ill as it made him feel he doubted the threats were grounded in reality. No one could be that ruthless, could they?
    “I’ve been busy a lot, haven’t I,” he said as they sat in front of the TV before going to bed.
    “I’m glad you noticed,” she replied. Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, but his wife had turned it into an art form. She did it better than anyone he’d ever met.
    “I’ve had a lot on,” he said defensively, before reminding himself where this was actually going.
    “I know,” she said. “It’s becoming a theme with you these days.”
    “It is, and that was why I wondered if it might be worthwhile you spending some time with your mum.” He could see the expression leave her face and knew this wasn’t a good sign. It meant she was trying not to give away her true feelings, which meant she had probably taken offence. “It’s just I’m worried I’m not around when you go into labour or if something goes wrong. Surely if you went away while I’m busy you’d be in better hands.”
    “It is the 21st century James. People’s employers do make allowances for paternity leave, that kind of thing.”
    “I know,” he said, now stuck for words. “I just.”
    “Ok,” was all she said.
    And he couldn’t help but feel that nothing was.
    He sipped on a coffee. Some people drank it to wake them up in the morning. He would probably confess he needed it to sleep at night. The TV chattered in the background, having been robbed of any significant volume, owing to his cautionary approach to anything that might disturb Rachel’s sleep. He paced the living room letting his mind wander, images of the past converging with images of the present. Pattern recognition; that was what he strived for. He’d always suffered from a pictographic memory but it came in handy for some things, namely his job, the one thing he was vaguely good at.
    So, who was body number two? Were there yardies in Edinburgh now? His manner of dress and the manner of his killing, being bumped off execution style, suggested there were.
    He’d quizzed Edwards about it, even phoned him at home, out of hours, if there was such a thing in this job.
    “Not aware of anyone operating in this area,” he’d said. Something didn’t add up about it though. He remembered what had happened ten or so years ago, back when he’d been a fresh detective, nowhere near drugs or organised crime admittedly but he knew a bit about it. Surely Edwards must. They’d arrived from Birmingham with intentions to boldly where no Brum gangsters had gone before. They’d heard about the city’s, by now legendary, heroin habit. In truth, they were a bit far behind. Anyone who saw Trainspotting knew about that and it was mid-nineties, based on an epidemic in the eighties. Even so, the yardies, seeing an opportunity among the city’s fabled smack-heads, had made for the Scottish capital in an effort to try their hands at conversion selling or perhaps upselling depending on the customer’s viewpoint. Their grand plan had been to convert some keen smack-heads into born again crack-heads, which seemed a logical move. The problem was they hadn’t counted on the brand loyalty of Edinburgh’s skag connoisseurs. They were unable to gain a foothold and having eventually caught the attention of Lothian and Borders Police they’d decided it might be a good move to bow out and head for the green, green grass of home.
    Surely Edwards should have known that, mentioned it in the passing, or maybe he didn’t do small talk unless he had something to gain.
    Were they having another go at cornering the market in the capital? If so they were doing a grand job of flying under the radar. If they chopped up the Russian and then lost one of their own they were certainly making waves. So why hadn’t someone noticed? And now this was blowing up he had a suspicion he hadn’t seen the last of Edwards. Word had a habit of getting around.
    He opened his laptop and googled Russian prison tattoos. He should perhaps have googled Lithuanian prison tattoos but preferred to rely instead on the inherent albeit unknowing bigotry of the internet community. Wikipedia had its own thoughts on the matter, which its collective consciousness had seen fit to lump in with other tattoos, but it was a starter for ten. He scrolled down the list taking a look at the photos he’d sent through to his home email account. He didn’t particularly like viewing images of bloated former jailbirds and close ups of their warped tattoos in his living room. This was supposed to be a sanctuary, a bit of a bolt hole away from all this but needs must. Hell mend him if Rachel found out. He’d already had the lecture about protecting the baby from all this and not bringing his work home. That was probably the least of the kid’s worries with a father like him.
    The epaulette, the stars on his knees, the crucifix on his chest, the church with the onion domes, and the dagger in his neck and the drops of blood falling from it, they all meant something.
    But maybe the most telling of all were the two eyes concealed below the roll of flab hanging over where his waistline had once time been.
    All was not what it seemed with Oleg Karpov.
* * *
    Giles hated fast driving, always had since a drunken accident with his father when he was twelve. He didn’t tolerate it from friends, family or business associates and especially not Sophie, his pseudo girlfriend, who had all the deft perception of a mole and worse coordination. She claimed the shouting made her worse, but he felt it was character building. It was the way his father had built him up.
    On this occasion he was rather enjoying being hurled around the back seat of the Ford S-Max as it accelerated, braked and was thrown into corners this way and that. Trust; that was the thing. You trusted hired, what was the word, mercenaries? Henchmen? He liked the idea of henchmen. Whatever, you trusted the fact they had certificates in shooting people in the face while being kicked in the legs, surviving ambushes and driving at the limit. It was entertaining watching a professional at work. Perhaps most of all this was because it was at his bidding. He was effectively running the show right now. He was capo-di-tutti-capo as the Italians would say, boss of all bosses. Admittedly this wouldn’t be for long, depending on how good he was at his job, and he was good at his job, but for now he had the wheel.
    Law, he reflected, had been a good choice; another good decision in a long line. Some may say it was easy when you had a head start in life but he’d happily counter that it did in fact largely come down to breeding. He was a subscriber to the theory of genetic memory and so in a roundabout way, he felt he should congratulate himself all the more. Not that he had blind faith in his abilities. That would be a tad remiss but a realistic belief in ones innate abilities and intellectual superiority in most situations wasn’t too much in the way of confidence.
    Looking at the two knuckleheads in the front he had to admit he’d be unlikely to last long if the clock suddenly went back to zero and they were all cavemen again. Physically they could undoubtedly wield a club with more finesse than he’d manage if it came down to it. He’d even concede that given such re-allotment of historical period he’d probably wind up being their bitch but then he’d probably also discover fire or the secret thereof thus turning the tables. His genes had lasted this long and it wasn’t for nothing. The ancestors must have had something going for them and now, at the turn of this new millennium, his genes were having their time. They were the master race. Love it or hate it, these Neanderthals had more or less had their time. Still, they were here to do his bidding. That was the crucial thing. He was in charge and the power was something.
    The booze was taking its time in wearing off and he knew he would have to sober up quickly. They sped down the track to the airfield. A small twin-engine Cessna was visible on the left, its navigation lights on, ready for the off, as they headed for the gate to the complex. He wasn’t fond of being in the actual buildings themselves. It brought everything home a bit too much, sent a shiver down the spine. Not that he was directly involved normally. He liked to keep a safe distance.
    As they entered the main gate, he thought better of it. “The plane’s over there. I’ll walk,” he said willing them to stop the car.
    From his position in the passenger seat, Alexei turned round, his menacing bulk intensified by a lack of hair. “There’s something else,” he said and Giles realised he was having problems with his T’s, and that he was now missing some of his front teeth, at least two, but he didn’t like to count too obviously.
    “Yes?” Giles replied in a tone reminding the goon who was in charge.
    The driver eyed Giles in the mirror with a look of trepidation. “We have a bit of a situation you might say.”


    Burke sat at his desk, enjoying -if he could be enjoying anything this week- an early morning stare. There wasn’t much to look at through the window, only a wall in fact, but there was a certain joy to be had in just defocusing the eyes and letting them do whatever the hell they wanted.
    It had been an eventful evening’s work and he had a good few nuggets of info to dispense to the team at this morning’s briefing. He could also pass some of this on to Gray. He was probably overdue for a good ear bending session about how much pressure the boss was under. At times Burke wished he was more the old school shouty superior officer, rather than one who like to nag and appeal to your better nature. His first headmaster had been a shouter and admittedly he got results, whereas his secondary head had been one of these modern types, and truth be told, merely got on everyone’s tits. It was hard to respect anyone who regularly told you about the hard time they were getting and that they hoped you would live up to the faith they’d put in you with doe eyes.
    He stared at the frost patterns on his window, the one no one had wanted so he’d accepted. Anything for a quiet life really. Not that he’d had much choice in the matter, he’d been the new boy when they were rearranging.
    And now they were rearranging again. Lothian and Borders Police was to become just a small cog in the larger machine called Police Scotland, rebranding, repackaging, consolidating power in one place. A government intent on independence and decentralisation of power centralising the police force and fire brigade. Decentralisation was all well and good, as long as it was flowing your way he supposed. Now there was a bit if nervousness about the whole place, people jostled for position, not wanting to get left behind, wanting to be part of this brave new world. Redundancies would follow he supposed, cuts in the smaller areas people didn’t think about. Now all the village bobbys were gone and the local cop shops were just cheap property for investors and first time buyers. No more knowing the name of your local beat cop. Not that he was a Luddite, he had no desire to see things stay the same. There was always room for improvement, just there was always room for someone to fuck it up too.
    His phone went off with a volume that nearly emptied his coffee over his leg as the surprise made him squeeze the plastic cup.
    “Good morning James,” he heard the confident tones of Mike Edwards chime. “Good to see you’re up and on the case so to speak.”
    “Always,” Burke replied in a way that suggested the opposite. He wasn’t really in the mood for Edwards this early on. He’d only met the man once and his forced enthusiasm was starting to grate. “What can I do for you?” He asked envisaging several scenarios whereby he did various things to him with an axe.
    “Oh I’m sure you know what I’m after.”
    He was stumped. “I’d suggest a big bust relating to the drug trade,” he replied, nothing like giving a deliberately vague answer on the off chance people thought you might actually know what you are talking about.
    “You don’t have a clue do you?” Edwards concluded.
    “None at all,” he confirmed.
    There was a pause at the end of the line as Edwards clearly enjoying this to some degree. He seemed the type. Smug bastard. “Should you have the time to check in your custody suite, you will find that you have residing in one of your room, one Victor Andreyevich.”
    “Indeed, I’ll pretend you don’t know who he is to refresh your memory. Lithuanian business man, interests in several firms around the globe, many of them shell companies, others encompassing mining, construction, property, and more problematic we believe, pharmaceuticals of the type not approved for prescriptions or over the counter sales.
    “I see, and yet he’s in our cells for?”
    Another pause. “Assault, breach of the peace, probably several counts of attempted murder when it comes down to it. He decided it might be rather fun to take his frustrations out on a pub full of Wednesday night revellers and finished up overdoing it slightly.”
    “I see,” Burke replied.
    “This is a golden opportunity James.”
    “Really? And how does this relate to me?”
    “Well, he does rather tie up with one, or two, or now I hear three corpses you’ve been looking into.”
    “Really,” Burke asked, knowing that this was probably the point where Edwards reminded him he owed him one.
* * *
    Andy found it hard to breathe. He’d never been a panicker but he was making up for it now. The balled up socks or rag or whatever it was they’d stuck in his mouth wedged his jaw unnaturally open. Saliva gathered at the back of his throat, forcing him to swallow every two seconds and that was difficult when he felt like he would choke on the contents of his mouth every time.
    This wasn’t an aspect of hostage life they covered in the movies; the sheer terror regarding basic bodily functions or the fact that inevitably there were no toilet breaks in this game. He’d tried holding it in for so long but eventually given in after remembering a horror story about the contents of the bladder being able to back up into the kidneys.
    Now he knew what it would be like to be old. He’d tried laughing at this but it hadn’t helped on a practical level. It was always a source of embarrassment, remembering something funny in public and struggling to stop yourself smirking or laughing out loud in case people thought you were a nutter. That was something he was used to, having that sense of humour, but he’d happily trade the public beamer for the snort of laughter that ended with him trying not to choke on a pair of socks. Or whatever it was. He hoped to god they were clean socks, couldn’t cope with the thought that he might get some kind of foot rot in his mouth or that his breath would forever more smell like some other bugger’s rancid hoof. He’d seen something on the Discovery Channel about things like that happening, something about a Japanese guy picking his nails with a chicken bone, breaking the skin and then having to cope with smelling of poultry for the rest of his days. Not a good way to spend your time, though it occurred to him that it might be a good idea to try out on Davie if he ever got out of here. This made him laugh again until he thought he was going to be sick which stopped him in his tracks. In this situation, that would be the end.
    They’d come for him around three. Probably. Not that he was wearing a watch anymore. What he wouldn’t give for a Bond watch right now, one with a laser beam, or a retro turning timer that doubled as a circular saw, like in The Spy Who Loved Me. He’d heard their footsteps echoing round the building, heard wheels rolling along behind him. He’d tried to look round but couldn’t quite stretch far enough and had a feeling they wouldn’t like that anyway so he’d given up and waited. The wheels grew nearer, rattling along with their increasing hollow metallic sound until everything moved with a jerk as he heard the clang of metal hitting the pallet he was sitting on, followed by a pumping sound as he was lifted, then pulled backwards with a force almost certainly designed to wake him up. The pallet swung round violently and he realised he was on a pallet truck, a miniature forklift, like some meat delivery at a supermarket.
    There were three of them. The operator of the pallet truck was the toothless one, who now stood, arms folded, in front of him, grinning regardless of the aesthetic this created. Another taller guy stood on the far left, standing at ease in the same way they’d taught Andy to in the Boy’s Brigade. He got the impression that wasn’t where this guy had learned it though, as he stood there with a puffed up chest, staring down the length of a broken nose and raised chin in Andy’s general direction. His eyes bulged out of his skull making him look fit to burst with ‘roid rage.
    These two were evidently just the goons. The big chief, or in this case emaciated looking chief, stood in the middle, head back in the style of goon number two, but more in a misguided attempt at posturing. Suited and booted to the max, this didn’t look like the manager of a livestock feed store. The hair alone probably had to be maintained on an hourly basis, just to keep the right air of importance. His eyes were nervous and red. He had the myxomatosis look usually displayed by the hung over. He looked around, unsure of himself for a few seconds, before looking Andy squarely in the eye, confidence replenished from somewhere. “So you’ve been sneaking around have you?” he asked, obviously attempting to make some kind of matey small talk or just buy enough time to think of something more to the point, considering they all knew the answer to that one anyway.
    “Yes,” Andy replied, wondering as he did if this boy was actually wanting an answer but at the same time realising too late that he’d said it like it was a question and finished up sounding sarcastic. He was happy with that but they definitely weren’t. The next sound he made was a squeal, as he felt the dull thud, followed by the sharp pain of an assault rifle hitting the side of his head. He’d only ever heard a dog make that sound; a sort of unconcealed helpless anguish when he’d accidentally trapped its paw in a door.
    He felt a tear roll down his left cheek as the anger and frustration came to the surface and he couldn’t help but look at his interrogator with a defiant sneer he knew he would come to regret as he bit his own tongue.
    The man looked to the floor, refusing to make eye contact and at the same time enjoying his captive’s discomfort. Perhaps he was composing his next brilliant question. “Any particular reason?” he eventually asked.
    “No,” Andy replied, “Seemed like a laugh, that’s all.”
    “Seemed like a laugh, that’s all?” he parroted. “You don’t seem to be laughing now do you?” The man looked at his two companions. Toothless boy wouldn’t return his gaze. In a way it was like being in the headmaster’s office, taking a bollocking and knowing that you weren’t entirely to blame but at the same time, dobbing in the school psychopath wasn’t going to do anyone any favours.
    Andy looked away as far as his head and eyeball mobility would allow, to the fertiliser bags piled high against the far wall. He wondered why they should need to stock quite that much of the stuff this time of year.
    “What do you know?” the suit demanded.
    “About what?” he replied, genuinely stumped and a little curious.
    This was the wrong answer again. The man nodded to goon number two who rewarded Andy with another blow to the side of his head for his trouble. He felt his pulse quicken and a pounding sensation, no doubt where his eardrum was. Something warm trickled down his neck and he tasted salt water again. He realised now that he may have thought it on occasion, but in reality, until this point, he’d never truly known hate.
    “I’m asking the questions,” the suit replied, trying to convey an air of calm and control but succeeding in giving off the exact opposite.
    “I don’t know what you mean or what you want from me,” Andy spluttered.
    Again the crack of an AK47 butt against the side of his head.
    “Oh I think you know something,” the man replied.
    “I know it all looks a bit fucking suspicious,” he growled back, spitting tears as he did. “I know this isn’t a good way to keep your customers happy and I know you’re gonna get yours you wee prick.”
    With that, the suit laughed, shrugged to his goons and tilted his head towards Andy in a theatrical motion before walking away. The next thing he knew he was waking up where he now found himself, trying not to gag.
    He caught something moving in the peripheral vision on his right side and his heart lurched into his mouth as he realised he was not alone. He jumped again as something began to touch him on the damaged side of his head.
    He relaxed as he realised it was a gentle hand, before losing consciousness again.


    “Interview room three, Thursday December thirteenth, two thousand twelve,” Edwards began, speaking into the tape recorder. Burke cringed and hoped it was noticed. He hated it when people pronounced things in an American way, clearly believing themselves to be in a film.
    “Present; DI Edwards, DI Burke and Victor Andreyevich.”
    He even noticed it on the news these days, MSPs referring to the Scoddish Parliament or the Scoddish Government or Scoddish independence. Whatever happened to a good old fashioned glottal stop or, heaven forbid, pronouncing your Ts properly.
    The Lithuanian sat on the other side of the cheap table, seemingly trying to bore holes in Edwards’ eyes with his own. So far all communication had been of the non-verbal variety, save for his demand for a lawyer, though even then he had waived his right to delay the interview before one arrived, opting instead to get straight into the posturing contest.
    The air was cold in the interview room and his breath could clearly be seen exiting via his nose in the form of steam. He looked like an angry bull. He returned his gaze to a point he’d picked on the table clearly feeling he had suitably berated Edwards for what Burke decided was likely to be bad pronunciation of his name. As he looked down his chins seemed to multiply. He looked more like a walrus now, only meaner, with a face hardened, no doubt, by seeing things no one should. He wore an expensive looking grey suit with a shirt whose main body was purple with a gold chalk stripe and collar was white. His chubby fingers swelled round various gold rings, some religious in nature, others merely expensive. His hair was almost too small in comparison like a top which could easily pop given the right amount of pressure.
    “So Victor, can I call you Victor?” Edwards began in earnest.
    No movement or acknowledgment was forthcoming.
    Edwards raised his eyebrows in Burke’s general direction before readdressing his suspect. “I suppose you how much trouble you are in?” He continued.
    Andreyevich let out a long drawn out sigh and leaned back in his chair. He folded his arms and regarded Edwards with a look of disappointed contempt and more than a hint of boredom. It was a look that said ‘I can do this all day.’
    “Do you think he understands English?” Edwards asked Burke with mock sincerity.
    “Enough to tell you my lawyer will be here in due course and that you’d be better advised to wait until that point.” Andreyevich answered coldly, before adding “Inspector,” as though this in itself was an insult.
    “Alright, alright, you have it your way Victor. We’re only trying to help. I mean you’ve hospitalised how many? Three people?” Edwards looked at Burke conspiratorially, “Three people, possibly four, depending on your perspective. Other people might not be so kind after reviewing the CCTV footage we have, but let’s give you the benefit of the doubt, three people, hospitalised Victor, and they don’t seem to be getting out any time soon. Nope, and you know what that means don’t you?”
    Victor concentrated on his finger nails which he was now more interested in than listening to Edwards. Burke couldn’t help noting that they were a bit too well manicured to require picking.
    Edwards pressed on. “Should they be there for more than two days Victor, that changes things significantly.” He kept his gaze locked on the interviewee despite the lack of response. “Right now you’re looking at assault, a fairly serious one at that, but assault none the less. Maybe in this case worthy of say a year in the big house.”
    Again Burke couldn’t help but notice Edwards using phrases which were clearly not his own. “But those stack up Victor. I’d say you’re looking at three years if it comes down to it.”
    Andreyevich laughed at this.
    “It’s not funny really, three years is a long time in there. Do you have a wife Victor?”
    No response.
    “A girlfriend then?”
    Nothing again.
    At this, Andreyevich dished out an icy glare in Edwards direction before turning his attention to the palms of his hands.
    “Kids eh? I’ve got kids. Have you got kids Inspector Burke?”
    “No.” Burke replied. Technically he had one on the way of course, but something in him felt he didn’t want his unborn child involved in this in any way, like it was bad luck or might harm him or her. The protective instinct in him meant that he now visualised smashing Edwards’ face off the table. Not that he that would do any good. The table would probably crack and buckle if tested that way and he suspected that wasn’t one they did down at the Ikea engineering lab.
    “It’s tough at the best of times,” Edwards continued, aiming his monologue at Burke. “Just working means you don’t get to see them as much as you’d like. You worry they’ll forget who you are, that you won’t perhaps be the influence or the steady hand they require in their formative years, that they might go off the rails or just start to resent you.”
    Burke decided there were now two people in the room wishing Edwards would shut the fuck up.
    “Of course that’s day to day life. We’re all busting a gut trying to get on, make our way in the world as it were, which I suppose is all any of us are trying to do. Only, how much harder must it be, how much of an impossibility is it all if you’re in prison in another country?”
    He really was trying to string this out, milk it for all it was worth.
    “Of course your children aren’t actually in another country are they Victor?”
    Victor’s expression changed rapidly to one of an evolved predator about to pounce.
    Even Edwards, despite his best efforts, showed the briefest hint of awkwardness, looking away towards Burke again. “No, they’re at Fettes College Jim, getting probably the best education this out of the way wee country has to offer, safely hidden away you might think, or maybe somebody did think.” He looked back to Andreyevich again, a renewed fire in his eyes. “What a coincidence eh? The day you happen to turn up in Edinburgh is the day your boys, Boris and Sacha I believe, the day their school happens to have a murder right on the doorstep a couple of hundred yards from where they sleep.”
    Andreyevich regarded Burke and Edwards in turn, probably sizing them up for the kill.
    “Or perhaps less obviously at first, on the day Vlad the Inhaler, aka Vladamir Petrovski, that name familiar to you Victor? On the day his head is left outside your sons’ school you happen to turn up in this fair city; coincidence? I’m not a great believer in coincidence Victor. That’s the problem I have. It’s the thing that keeps me awake at night. It’s the thing that makes me start digging around like I’m trying to scratch an itch or something and that’s how I find things out.”
    Victor was now just staring straight through Edwards, like he’d picked a spot on his head and focused on that.
    “That’s how I find out things like who people were in prison with.” Edwards carried on. “And we know which particular headless man you were in prison with, don’t we Victor?”
    Now it was Burke’s turn to be angry. Nothing like being kept in the loop. He imagined the table smashing scenario again, only this time when the government bought tat disintegrated someone had accidentally left a big spike underneath it.
    “Inspector Burke has an evil sense of humour Victor and that seems to have made him smile.”
    Still no response from Andreyevich.
    “I wonder what he might think about the fact that if any of these current hospital patients remain there for, say two days, just one more really, that would probably be grounds for considering these charges to be more like attempted murder.” He looked at Victor briefly again as he paused and sipped his coffee. “You may never see the light of day again. Oh I know you can do the time. I know you’ve got form. But can your kids?”
    Andreyevich looked at him in disbelief. Was this a suggestion that they would be sent away? Was this country so corrupt?
    “Oh not literally of course.” Edwards reassured him, “We wouldn’t send them to the salt mines or anything. We don’t do that here but we do deport people, back to wherever they came from, even if say, wherever they came from was like the wild fucking west. Without protection in sight, what with daddy dearest in the clink, I wonder how long a couple of posh school boys would last with everyone coming out of the woodwork to pick over the carcass of your…” Edwards scoffed, “Respectable business empire.”
    Victor was now gripping the table firmly with both hands. His nose curled up in a sneer as he struggled to stay in some kind of control and retain a composed façade.
    Edwards suspended the interview and stopped the tape before making to leave. “Of course, there are things we can do Victor. You really should give it some thought.”
    He was, Burke decided like a man trying to close an insurance sale which made him want to hit Mike Edwards all the more.
* * *
    Giles was not a well man. The booze alone he could probably have coped with, given his track record, but he was not the greatest flyer. It was one thing he tried to work on; a major bone of contention he had with himself. There was no point getting the jet set lifestyle together when you couldn’t get on a jet without feeling the urge to retch. The Cessna was not exactly an improvement. Everything had started off well enough. He’d been so keyed up by the violence preceding take off and at the same time subdued in part by the residual drink that he hadn’t really thought too hard about it. The familiar feel had returned in full force though. As he climbed into the cockpit and belted up he couldn’t help notice the shaking of his hands.
    The pilot took one look at him and handed over a sick bag.
    Take off wasn’t quite as bad as expected, mainly because he’d been expecting the worst case scenario, the one that ended in a fire ball. The view was quite something if he’d been into that kind of thing, if he hadn’t been in so much of a mess, hadn’t been thinking about not throwing up and hadn’t been trying to work out what to do with his biggest client.
    As the bay disappeared behind them he began to toy with the idea of drifting off for half an hour. The Galloway hills had other ideas. The turbulence was a wakeup call. As things seemed to gain a modicum of calm they would drop what seemed like six feet without warning. It wasn’t easy keeping it together in the throws of a full on fight or flight fit when you couldn’t run anywhere and the only person available to fight was currently in charge of keeping you alive.
    It was a long flight. The pre-ordered car at the airfield took him straight to Gayfield Square. He’d never actually been in this situation. He wasn’t that kind of lawyer. He was a corporate lawyer; a fixer and facilitator. He enjoyed the challenge of setting things up; contracts, trusts, loopholes, anything that circumvented or took advantage of the rule of law, legal process or tax loss; that was what appealed to him. It pushed his buttons and generally gave him a good enough kick to get out of bed in the morning. He was not a criminal lawyer. He wasn’t used to speaking to officers of the law regarding clients’ attempts to bludgeon and kick their way through busy bars.
    He didn’t have the street smarts or know the tricks. It was a lack of practice more than anything. These guys were well versed in the to and fro of interviewing suspects. He was not well versed in the defending of said suspects.
    He had not met Victor Andreyevich before. He knew that he was his major client. However, everything was done through the company. He preferred it that way.
    Andreyevich did not disappoint. He had a natural air of authority afforded by sheer physical bulk. Giles didn’t approve of the excessive jewellery. All very well a signet ring that had been passed down from the forefathers, but a collection of Christmas baubles adorning ones fingers was just a bit nouveaux riche.
    After some consultation time, in which he was given some terse instructions they faced the inquisition. The two detectives they encountered were higher ranked than he was expecting. Was this due to his client’s high status or did they genuinely think they had something on him other than the obvious.
    The taller one of the two, Edwards, seemed intent on doing most of the talking. Giles felt he recognised him from somewhere. Not school, he was too old for that but maybe he had a brother or something. In any case, he seemed to be going round in circles a bit, which Giles supposed was to be expected, given that he and his client gave them no material to work on.
    Andreyevich’s plan, or at least this part of it, had been spelled out. It was a straight policy of saying nothing. He answered not a single question. Throughout, he eyed Edwards in a nonchalant way that seemed to imply he wasn’t particularly worried about this. The only time he had to interject was when Edwards started banging on about attempted murder. The charge seemed a little ambitious even for a man who clearly set high targets for himself. The other one, Burke, seemed a little disconnected, like he was observing from afar. He didn’t look like a detective, more like someone who should be trying to sell something he’d just invented on Dragon’s Den. He was a bit of a quiet one compared to his sidekick who looked more like the captain of the school rugby team.
    The strict policy of non-ball-playing meant the interview did not take long. There had been one hair raising moment when Edwards started talking about a murder or murders his client might be able to ‘shed some light on.’ He didn’t get the reference and was about to interject but his client waved him away, laughed and shook his head. The lack of concern was a boost, as at this point if Giles was totally honest with himself, he was merely playing off the man’s reactions and had just about zero knowledge of any use.
    He thought Burke might have been staring at him. He never actually caught him but he was sure he looked away a couple of times to avoid his gaze. Maybe it was a cop thing. Maybe they were always trying to recognise someone they’d seen somewhere or other that had done them or the general public some ill. Or maybe he just didn’t like the cut of his jib. Whatever the case the feeling was mutual. The man could at least have shaved for this morning’s interview.
    Other than his mounting paranoia at Burke’s staring and his nausea at Edwards constant babble, he had to admit it was not the worst hangover he’d ever had.
    But leaving his client in the holding cells, he had a feeling it might be about to get a whole lot worse.


    As Andy’s eyes slowly opened he began to grow accustomed to the darkness unfolding before him. His neck hurt from the awkward unnatural way he’d been forced to sleep. At first he woke every time his chin hit his chest, but eventually his body had given in as it had to when in such dire need of sleep. Now the back of his neck ached in a way that made him think his upper vertebrae were all out of line permanently. This was probably the kind of thing that made you walk around with your head tilted forward for the rest of your days, turned you into a hunchback or something. He couldn’t imagine it ever feeling normal again, or that it ever had.
    His hands were now numb and he found himself worrying about the possibility of circulation loss and the inevitable consequences of this, namely gangrene and the loss of limb.
    But most of all though it was the pain in his head that really registered. It wasn’t even that sore. He’d had more pain in his limbs after a good work out. It was more that everything was not as it should be. One side of his head was swollen and even in this light his eyesight seemed to have diminished although maybe that was down to the fact his eye was bruised closed.
    At first he’d thought it was his captors who kept waking him up. Maybe they were about to start the hard core water boarding or wire his nuts to a car battery after a spot of light sleep deprivation. But then he’d heard the soft female voice, talking to him in a soothing way in a language not his own as the side of his head was gently massaged and stroked with some kind of wet material.
    The gag was gone. He tried to speak but at first she just said ‘shhh,’ and then later she seemed somehow different, voice at a slightly lower pitch though still talking to him in a foreign tongue.
    Slowly the light began to stream through the crack between the big barn doors in front of them and it seemed as though someone had hit the room with a spotlight. He supposed it was all relative. He could now see there were more than one or even two girls but maybe ten all sitting in the dark like mushrooms or something.
    “What is this?” he asked, as someone else took their turn at soothing his pounding temple.
    He was shushed again. “You must keep quiet,” she told him in a whisper, “Or they’ll hear you and you don’t want them in here, trust me.”
    She sounded young, about his age anyway, pretty not that he could see clearly but blonde, slight, Eastern European looking.
    “What are you doing here?” he asked.
    “Waiting,” she answered.
    “What for?”
    She shrugged her shoulders.
    “You don’t know? How did you end up here?” he demanded, realising his voice had escaped more loudly than intended. He could make out her eyes glaring at him even in this light. “Where are you from?”
    She replied something he didn’t understand before adding, “You call it Georgia.”
    “Georgia? So what are you doing here?”
    “Escaping,” she said.
    “Looks like you’re doing a grand job. Why are you locked up here?”
    “I don’t know,” she replied. “It is not my place to know. I pay them money to escape for a new life and now, we wait.”
    “You paid them for this kind of accommodation?” he said, wishing that he hadn’t as she took her wet cloth and moved away from him. “I’m sorry,” he said, meaning it, unlike the majority of times he’d used the word in his short life. “Do you know what they’ll do with me?” he asked, knowing he probably didn’t want the response he was about to get.
    She shook her head looking sad as far as he could tell. He could see that she was very beautiful and instantly decided the worst was likely to happen to her.
* * *
    The address was one in Gorgie; a one bedroom hidden up a backstreet, entered by a distinctly rank smelling close. He buzzed and waited a good two minutes before buzzing again and getting an angry response. “What?” the voice on the intercom demanded.
    “Oleg’s people sent me,” Giles volunteered. This was followed by a long pause before the buzzer finally sounded and the outer door was released.
    Through the door inside emerged a grotesquely overweight figure wearing a grey tracksuit. He had lank greasy hair, spots and a beard that seemed to exist mainly on his neck despite obviously being in his thirties. “You don’t look like Oleg sent you,” the man mountain challenged.
    “I am his lawyer,” Giles replied, sticking out his hand. “John Smith.”
    The man laughed at this but shook his hand with a clammy paw and ushered him inside. “Jackie Chan. Best not to use our real names I suppose.”
    The hall stank of damp and unwashed clothes. It was dimly lit and there was stuff everywhere; old computers, boxes of electrical items, seemingly unopened parcels from Amazon and in one corner a massive pile of train tickets. As they moved through to the living area which consisted of a kitchenette that had been at its height of design currency sometime around 1978 and more stuff surrounding a couch, there was at least some light provided by a bank of screens. On one screen there seemed to be various transactions in operation on another a spreadsheet with what looked like card details. A bigger screen ran rolling news bulletins and another showed a PlayStation game paused mid action. There were various printers and blank cards.
    Jackie Chan saw him looking. “You’re not a cop are you?”
    “No,” Giles replied, a little too quickly for his liking.
    “Then what exactly are you?” Chan demanded, “Because I know you weren’t sent here by Oleg.”
    “And how do you know that?” Giles replied, injecting as much indignation as he felt he could properly pull off.
    “Well I suppose my main reasoning would be based around the fact that he bought the farm yesterday morning.”
    “Really, although it’s not common knowledge of course. But I would expect you cops to know that.”
    “Listen,” Giles began shakily. “I’m not a cop or anything like that. I work for a man called…”
    “Victor Andreyevich,” Chan interrupted.
    “Yes,” Giles replied, relief flooding into his vocal chords and everywhere else.
    “I knew that,” Chan said. “I just wondered if you did.”
    “Well, everything’s so subdivided, partitioned off, it’s hard to know who knows what.”
    “I see.”
    “You might, but not as much as those of us who know how to get in the back door do.”
    Chan motioned to his technological pile. “With this you can know it all, not to mention have it all.” He waved his arm round the room at all his ill-gotten gains. “Your boss however, allows me access to certain systems so that in return I provide him with a certain level of income and the odd favour now and again.”
    “Of course,” Giles confirmed. It was news to him as right now he was on the Everest of learning curves, but no need to let the geek know what his precise security clearance was.
    “Then you’ll know why I’m anxious to protect my investment.”
    “What do you need?” the giant asked.
    Giles did his best to explain and when he was finished Chan shook his head and laughed. “Childs play,” was all he said, which Giles was quite glad about as anything more would have been beyond his comprehension.
    “I would offer you a cup of tea,” Chan said, gesturing towards the kitchenette where a sink overflowed with festering dishes blending almost seamlessly with used takeaway receptacles, “But we’re all out.”
    Giles found himself wondering who the ‘we’ was and if it possibly included the bacteria who were clearly a permanent fixture in the property. There was a distinct possibility Chan’s clothes could actually walk him round the flat and a similar likelihood that the morbidly obese boffin would quite like that.
    “I think I’ll leave you to it. Not like I’d be much use to be honest,” Giles admitted. “If I can ehm….” He stumbled.
    “Ah yes. The filthy lucre,” Chan confirmed. “I wouldn’t be embarrassed about that Mr Smith. It is the stuff that keeps everything flowing.”
    “It is.”
    Chan handed him a greasy looking brown paper bag which at some point had played host to doughnuts or something similar. Giles accepted it awkwardly. Chan looked at him expectedly. “Well?”
    “Aren’t you going to count it?” He demanded.
    “Well, I…” Giles stumbled again. This wasn’t his forte.
    “I certainly would.”
    “OK,” he said, without actually explaining that he didn’t know how much he was supposed to check for. His fingers shook as he fumbled with the worn notes. He looked up to see Chan regarding at him with a look of bemusement.
    “I take it he didn’t tell you how much to expect then?”
    “Nevertheless, I have confirmed the amount for my records Mr Chan,” he replied curtly, in an attempt to reassert some control over the situation.
    Chan dipped his head in confirmation and snapped a set of giant Bose cans over his ears before turning his back. “You’ll hear from me when I know everything.”
    “How will you know how to get in touch?”
    “Because you’re about to write your number down. Or do I have to spend an extra two minutes getting that from Lothian and Borders Police’s server as well?”
* * *
    Burke was not having a good day all told. First of all, it had not been the most productive of interviews, but Edwards was not one to give up at the mere silence of the suspect.
    He had attacked it from several angles before the brief even arrived. When the brief did arrive he appeared a little nervous, but to give him his due, he did have a good go at putting a brave face on it, attempting to counterbalance the nerves with an air of smugness that didn’t quite ring true. He was young and, maybe late 20s, wearing a suit that might just as easily have been worn by a man 20 years his senior and accessorising it with an accent to match, probably a corporate lawyer drafted in for effect, young, inexperienced and easily shoehorned into whatever Andreyevich wanted.
    There was something nagging at Burke’s subconscious though; his spidey sense was giving him grief and he couldn’t work out why.
    Edwards was really going for it, laying it on with a trowel. Andreyevich used only the phrase “no comment”, though most of the time he just shrugged, leading Edwards to repeatedly say “for the benefit of the tape Mr Andreyevich is shrugging his shoulders.”
    After a while Burke was ready to confess to anything himself just to get him to button it.
* * *
    Daryl couldn’t raise Leon on the phone. He left countless voicemail messages for the first day, reasoning that it was more than likely he’d run out of credit and couldn’t call back; probably got lucky was the thought that stuck his head. After the first 36 hours the phone didn’t ring and went straight to voicemail. He began to wonder if he’d been abducted by a woman. On day three he began to wonder if he hadn’t been abducted by someone else.
    He wouldn’t have done a runner, Daryl felt confident about that. He had faith in Leon. He was the linchpin, although more and more lately the worry was that he was becoming a kingpin. He just seemed to have the answers the other two didn’t. Under pressure he always seemed to be the confident one. Not a bad asset for a boy they’d met when he helped them out of a stand-off in a club a year before. Handy type to have around, knew what to do without causing too much unnecessary damage, apart from that night two months ago when he cut that girl without a hint of remorse. Some dark shit going on between his ears.
    He tried again. For fuck’s sake. All he had to do was find one of those charging booth things and stick a quid in it. But Leon probably didn’t know that. He didn’t seem to know his way around tech stuff, like he’d just breezed in from the ice age or something. Come to think of it, with what they were cooking up it was more like he was about to breeze into the next ice age; one of his own creation.
    Daryl smiled to himself. Optimism; that was what was required here. Soon enough he’d have them all on the pipe, and then to start making some serious cheese.
    Gus was asleep as usual. He seemed to like waking up in time for the six o’clock news, like he cared what was going on in the outside world. It wasn’t like he was a citizen or anything. None of that shit affected him in anyway. Their business was thankfully tax exempt. Say what you like about the Tories, at least they only taxed honest people, the ones that opted into society, hadn’t managed to dodge that particular bullet; the mugs.
    He’d give it another hour and then you put some feelers out back in the Brum, see if he’d been spotted or heard of anywhere. Not too loudly of course, it didn’t do to look like you were losing control of things at this end. Word of a screw loose might set off some kind of takeover bid these days, what with all the young ones coming up.
    Maybe he’d give it two hours, see what Gus had to say on the matter when he woke up. Just as long as he didn’t recommend shooting him again. Reckless fucker.


    The plastic surgeon looked decidedly more nervous than last time they’d had the pleasure, like someone living on stimulants. Took one to know one Burke reckoned, but this was a man who hadn’t been spending much time in the land of nod lately.
    He seemed to shrink quite a lot outside the confines of his secure domain. No oak panelled solidity here, no comfortable conforming Chesterfields to slouch on, no, just the nasty cheap cleaning product smell of a well-used interview room.
    They’d asked that he came to the station this time, for the benefit of the tape as he’d grown so fond of hearing throughout the duration of the morning. He had appeared within the hour. Nipping and tucking was clearly not too popular at the present time. Maybe it was a seasonal thing; no point getting lipo in the run up to Chrimbo on the off chance it just might tear your stitches and leave you with an abdomen like a burst couch.
    “Is it true that if you get liposuction on your man boobs and pot-belly that you can suffer from fat knees if you over indulge?” he asked Douglas now, almost unintentionally.
    “Ehm, yes. I suppose so,” Douglas replied, wrong-footed slightly by this. “Anywhere you’re likely to store fat other than the area you’ve had the procedure on. Obviously we’re genetically predisposed to store fat in different places and hormones play a significant role, so in men the classic middle aged spread results from the way testosterone makes the body store fat on the abdomen and neck, whereas women are more likely to store it on the hips and of course the gluteus maximus. Doubtful it would be the knees first though. If I were to say remove the fat from your lower abdomen the remainder of the fat cells on your chest would be the most likely area to bear the brunt of the enlargement. Similarly if I were to remove the fat from your chest your neck would be the most likely area and so on. So you might have to do a fair bit of sculpting to get the desired effect on your knees.”
    This was the first question Burke asked and he allowed Douglas to continue in this vein. “So if I were to do the right amount of lipo-sculpting and eat the requisite amount of lard, is theoretically possible to have the body of Marilyn Monroe?”
    The doctor sighed and shook his head. “I suppose so, but wouldn’t that be an expensive way of doing it when you could probably do the same with hormones?”
    “Indeed.” Burke agreed, before adding “were you actually having an affair with Oleg Karpov, or merely taking advantage of the many rent boys you say he brought round?”
    Douglas’s head dropped and he began to sob at which point Burke ran out of things to say and looked imploringly at Sam Jones for anything she had. She put some tissues on the desk and handed them to Douglas.
    “How did you know?” he asked as he blew his nose loudly.
    “Tattoos,” Jones replied. Clearly she selected the good cop role for herself and this routine.
    Douglas laughed resigned silent laugh. “Of course.”
    “Did you know what all of them meant?” Burke asked.
    “Not one,” Douglas answered, laughing again and shaking his head before sniffling some more and dabbing his eyes with the tissue.
    “Well one in particular gave away his particular preferences.”
    “The eyes?” Douglas asked.
    “Correct,” Burke answered.
    “A bit cold. But then my comparison with the other artwork really not so much.”
    “And you sure you don’t know what any of it meant?” Jones asked.
    “Not at all. He always refused to discuss it.”
    “So presumably you were close?” Burke asked
    “I suppose so. I mean I don’t think he was as close to anyone else, but how close can you really be to someone when you don’t divulge anything about their life to anyone. I have no real clue what he did.”
    “Despite the Russian prison tattoos?”
    “Is that what they were? I had an inkling but as I say it was never discussed.”
    “You sure about that?” Burke asked, “I mean he didn’t mention anything about it while you’re indulging in your illegal class A drugs or the illegal services provided by possibly very young sex workers?”
    Douglas’s face was very pale all of a sudden. He had begun to look like a weight had been lifted from the shoulders, but now he was carrying it once more. “I can assure you inspector, they were fully above the age of consent.”
    Burke felt mildly uncomfortable at this and decided to move it along. “Where were you on the night Mr Karpov was murdered?”
    “Ah, well that’s the thing. I was trying to tell you and I wish I had inspector but if I’m honest my nerves got the better of me somewhat.”
    “You were there weren’t you?” Jones interrupted in a sympathetic tone.
    “I’m rather afraid I was.” Douglas confirmed, raising what seemed to be an apologetic smile.
* * *
    Andy had spent most of the morning, or what he assumed was the morning, drifting in and out of consciousness. The girl had stopped waking him know, obviously deciding that he wasn’t going to die from concussion. His head told a different story.
    He still felt sick when he tried to move too much. That was yet another doing over he owed the big guy he now knew must be Georgian.
    He pretended to be asleep when they came in and dropped food and water for the numerous bodies in the shed. They’d delivered it in what looked like stainless steel dog bowls.
    One of the girls said something to the two hulks they clearly understood and didn’t agree with, reasoning that the correct response was to quite literally slap her down.
    He wanted to do something, felt ashamed that he didn’t, couldn’t. He wasn’t used to feeling so fucking helpless, like a dog with his tail between his legs.
    A couple of the other girls tried to soothe her, but this seemed to cause an argument more than anything, which again made his head hurt. Much as he normally enjoyed the idea of girls fighting, it wasn’t the same when you couldn’t understand what was actually going on.
    What now? Was he actually going to eat from a bowl, like their dog or something? At what point would his pride give out? And what were the bastards planning on doing with him anyway? He wondered if there was a way he could persuade them to call it quits, let him go on his way in exchange for his silence about whatever fucked up shit was going on here. Like hell. Not after he’d been put in a shed full of the girls they were trafficking. More likely he’d be taking a dirt nap or getting put to work in some kind of sweat shop along with them if he was lucky. He’d seen the documentaries, admittedly while doing other things. They were on in the background because the old man was genuinely interested in what was going on in the outside world, despite never really getting to see any of it for real. Not that he was missing out on much if this was the kind of shit they could pull right under the noses of everyone in even their quiet little corner of the world.
    At least they couldn’t put him to work in one of their brothels. He doubted he’d make them much, what with the nose that had been broken so many times it was starting to look like it was made of papier mache and the ears that were becoming more cauliflower like by the day. He had a face that had seen the inside of too many scrums.
    His eyes had fully acclimatised to the darkness now. Any more and he would probably start to look like a mole. He could see the dust floating in the air in the shafts of light created by the holes in the building’s ageing, once temporary fabric. Movements outside caused a strobing effect. Whenever someone passed by it caused a sense of panic he wouldn’t have thought possible after such a length of time.
    One of the girls, she said her name was Ania, tried to feed him and he gathered enough energy to refuse enthusiastically, but eventually gave in as she poured the concoction, soup he thought, down his throat. His head pounded with every miniscule movement, like a bad hangover. He was surprisingly hungry all things considered. He managed to finish the contents of his dog bowl before thanking her.
    “So are they Georgian as well?” he asked, motioning to the wall with his head as it was the only thing not tied up. “The guys outside with the big guns and the bad attitude.”
    “Georgian, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, I think,” she said softly.
    In another time, he thought, he might well have been trying to chat this girl up in the pub. Who was he kidding? In another time he was far more likely to be too nervous to even speak to her at all. But right now all bets were off. Wasn’t that what they said about the spirit of the blitz and all that? It was the great leveller, brought everyone together.
    He wanted to ask again what she thought they’d do with him but that would do no good. He wanted it to be over, whatever the outcome, get the worst out of the way.
    Ania looked away towards the darkness as if knowing what he was thinking.
    “And you?” he asked eventually.
    “I don’t know,” she said, “But I’m here. I have some sort of shot of making a life. I think it might not be the life I expected but who can say theirs is?”
    “I know what you mean,” he agreed benignly, wishing he could say something more constructive that might make everything ok. He wished more than anything that he could fix this for both of them, for all of them, because it was doubtful any of them deserved to be here. What could you do that meant you did? Perhaps people trafficking, selling girls into slavery once they’d paid you everything they had for a chance of a life beyond what they knew, deducting their hopes, dreams and dignity on top of everything else. Perhaps that meant you deserved to be stored in a rotting shed, not knowing what was going to happen next.


    Gordon went to work straight away. The lawyer had been despatched to get on with his end of things, though it had to be noted, he didn’t look too confident in it.
    He talked a good fight. Gordon would concede that. But “John Smith”? What kind of alias was that? Not much of a one for thinking on his feet, this stuffed suit, going on that basis. Setting that aside, it had been fun being Jackie Chan, even if he didn’t have the fight skills or the legendary tuxedo. It would be hard to find one to fit really if he was totally honest with himself, which with regard to things like his weight, personal appearance or personal hygiene, he seldom was.
    Denial was indeed, not just a river in Egypt. In Gordon’s case it was an all-encompassing life style choice. Things could get on top of you. That was just a fact of life. It was something he’d learned from his mother. He’d stopped going to see her after a while; after the madness had fully kicked in.
    Keeping his head down was key. He’d done his research on the matter, after visiting various security conferences, having hacked their systems and gained entry as a delegate. The irony appealed to him and far outweighed his distaste at having to be in a room with other people.
    It was only when the hits got big that your head was effectively above the parapet and had a price on it, though as it happened that was what had made him bigger in the first place, performing a bit of an audacious hack on a Russian database he thought might have evidence of the moon landings being faked. It seemed a long time ago now. Other hackers had tried similar things of course, usually in the US, and been well and truly busted. Gordon thought he would have a go at Russian government files, figuring that they would probably have an idea of what was going on with their main rivals during the cold war and that their files might not be as secure as those of the CIA or NASA, that he’d be less likely to be caught and, if caught, less likely to be deported, the UK government being less inclined to suck up to the Russians. The thought that it would be a lot more hard core if he was deported did not escape him though. Another factor was his ability to speak and more importantly read Russian.
    In the event, he’d managed to turf up nothing. Or so he’d thought at the time.
    Late one night, the following November, there had been a knock at the door. That was how he’d come to know Oleg Karpov. It would be the first and last time they would meet at his flat.
    The Lithuanian had explained very calmly in heavily accented English that he was well aware Gordon had been keen to access the databases concerned. He did look like a spy, not that Gordon had seen any outside the realms of his extensive pirated film collection but this must be what they looked like he assured himself; the kind of person you wouldn’t notice in the passing. Other than the man’s undoubted weight issues there was nothing to mark him out, and this probably helped in the sense that people tended to underestimate the obese, giving him the edge in terms of surprise if need be.
    Gordon’s mind ran riot, imagining worse case scenarios involving Polonium sandwiches and Siberian salt mines. Karpov was “connected to” the security services he said and threw Gordon by saying he admired his work, a compliment he could not take lightly as he wrestled to stay in control of his bowels and retain some façade of composure. He felt like a duck in the water; all calm and tranquillity on the surface as the feet manically paddled to keep everything in order.
    He’d always known his reach would exceed his grasp one day but nonetheless he’d kept on pushing through. It was an admirable quality, he’d told himself. But how many times had he been lectured on the dangers of hubris without it sinking in to any degree?
    When Karpov made him an offer, logic dictated he was unable to refuse. The Lithuanian had, he explained, the contacts and knowledge concerning the use of certain facilities that might be useful to “a young man starting out in the information technology field.”
    At first he wondered what the old guy was on about. What did he see as the point to helping him out? What was Karpov to gain from this? And more importantly what did this guy know about computer systems? Karpov must have sensed the doubt in the younger man and humoured him by explaining in more depth. This would also be the first and last time this happened.
    It seemed Karpov had the contacts and wherewithal to arrange access to certain networks inside Mother Russia and the former Soviet Union at large; bot nets that could be used to do one’s bidding from the safety afforded by what was left of the iron curtain. These were Gordon’s to do with as he pleased, within reason, in exchange for the odd “favour” now and again and a certain cut, fifty percent it would transpire, of Gordon’s take.
    “Cut of what?” his younger more naive self had asked.
    “Whatever you like.” Karpov had replied. “We in our organisation pride ourselves on encouraging creativity. Think about it. If you have the power to be protected from view, what would you do? Think perhaps, of being the invisible man for the day. You have an entire network of other people’s computers at your disposal without even their knowledge of such a thing. Thousands of them and no chance of being caught. You can crash web-sites. You can go more or less undetected wherever you like with impunity and you have a degree of protection from a country who, let’s face it, are not known for their handing over of those who breach certain security networks or their willingness to divulge information to banks, security agencies or, really anybody in the west. What do you do? Your only limit is your imagination. As I say, we will, of course call in certain favours, as will Mother Russia. Naturally nothing too insidious. I doubt you’d mind that. You are not, from what my information suggests, given to strong convictions either moral or political.
    Gordon shook his head begrudgingly as he felt a chill in the room.
    The old man smiled. Knowing he’d got his point across and clearly knowing his new associate was aware they owned him now, he attempted to lighten the mood, accentuate the positive. “So what’s it going to be?” he asked. “You’re the invisible man. What do you do?”
    “Probably spy on girls,” Gordon replied, only semi-consciously.
    Karpov laughed. “Girls can be provided,” he boomed with a dismissive swoosh of the hand, “if that sweetens the deal for you.”
    And that had been how Gordon managed to not only evade dying from polonium poisoning, but also not die a virgin.
    This particular favour was nothing to him. As he set to work, he wondered who would take over the running of the girls Oleg despatched on a regular basis.
    They were the kind of human contact he could not do without.


    Doc Brown was enjoying the stress in some ways, he said, as he made his way down to the business end of the mortuary. A friend of his had recently died on the golf course, a month after retiring at fifty five from a lucrative but stress inducing position in the banking sector. Apparently the sudden lack of exertion and regular doses of adrenaline had forced the man’s heart into a state of abject confusion, whereby it really didn’t know what to expect at any given moment. Being suddenly let off the hook in such a way had forced his heart to go the other way and simply shut down.
    Jones thought the closer the Doc got to retirement himself the more he seemed to drift in and out of stories and theories on life. He seemed wistful but less stressed out generally, with the notion of retirement adding a spring to his step whenever the subject was broached. He reminded her of her granddad. Same sense of mischief. Same hairline too.
    “So what do you know Detective?” he asked as they arrived at the slab, or rather stainless steel wash down surface as they all were in this day and age.
    “Oh this and that,” she replied, noncommittally.
    “I bet,” he said, raising an eyebrow in a way he must have spent time practising. “I was referring specifically to our John Doe here and his particular brand of maxillofacial surgery.”
    Jones regarded the victims face. “Not much if I’m honest Doc. Busy morning all told.”
    “You and me both. Someone’s intent on keeping heaven stocked up with fresh souls.”
    “Full Metal Jacket?”
    “Indeed. A bit before your time though I would imagine.”
    “Before I was born,” she confirmed, “But a classic nonetheless.”
    The doctor frowned hard at this, as though making some kind of mental note. “Can’t go wrong with an ageing classic though,” he suggested with a wink.
    She wondered why it was ok when he did such things but gave her the dry heave when Campbell did the same. She supposed because one of them clearly didn’t mean it.
    “Well, a cursory examination of his face may allow you to overlook the fairly minor seeming well healed scarring around our victim’s lower jaw.” Brown produced some x-rays taken at different angles to the victim’s skull. The Jaw showed several solid white patches. He pointed these out with his pen. “Titanium mini-plates.” He picked out the various points on the victim’s face, relating them in turn back to the relevant x-ray. “Holding everything together. Not just the lower mandible, but his left cheekbone as well.”
    “Hazard of the job?” Jones suggested, wanting to suggest something useful in some desire to prove that she was a good pupil.
    “And what job would you suppose that to be?” he asked, raising both eyebrows in a demonstration of just how craggy a forehead could become.
    “Drug dealing scumbag? Or maybe I’ll hedge my bets and go for generic organised crime scumbag. Then again, there have been a lot of drug related goings on around these parts of late.”
    “Perhaps if I was to tell you that these injuries were not sustained by a baseball bat to the face but rather by a blast. A bat would be unlikely to create such damage. Look at the number of plates.”
    “Bank robber? Safe cracker? Generic scumbag who sustained multiple baseball bat blows to the face?”
    Brown laughed. “The wrong kind of damage.” He pointed at the x-ray. “You see the size of some of the fractures; tiny. There’s been a fairly evenly distributed trauma to the side of the skull. With a bat you would probably find bigger fractures at a specific, or indeed, as you suggested, several specific points. This kind of injury is more commonly found with the kind of specific shock trauma associated with a blast.”
    “Wouldn’t there be more markings on the face? Scarring say?”
    “You’d be surprised. I’d say he wasn’t directly exposed to the blast, wasn’t sitting in a bank vault when they blew the bloody doors off so to speak.”
    “Don’t they tend to pack explosives round safe doors, forcing the blast sideways? That might shield your would be safe cracker from the blast to a degree but create a shock wave.”
    Brown laughed again, like an indulgent parent. “It might, but it didn’t in this case.” He paused, allowing her to think about this and probably knowing what was coming next.
    “How do you know that?”
    “Because this is the kind of specialised thing they deal with at University Hospitals Birmingham. This is very precise, not the kind of thing your parochial surgeon can knock up in an afternoon. You have to go to the place where they do this kind of reconstruction. It’s the kind of surgery that generally results from a tour of duty with her majesty’s armed forces and the associated evils of warfare. It began with trench warfare on the likes of the Somme. Soldiers’ heads were very suddenly the most exposed part, presumably as they popped them up in attempts to discover what precisely was going on in no-man’s-land. Facial trauma became a much more common thing. Traditionally they used scaffold structures on the outside of the skull to support the healing bones. More recently these have been inserted as pins and plates and yet more recently again they started using a version of the original technique in Iraq and Afghanistan, where injuries sustained often involve large amounts of skin. The structures are more malleable, easier to work with. Everything comes full circle in the end.”
    “So you think he was a soldier?” Jones asked, trying to absorb this and highlight the important information.
    “I did.” Brown replied, “Until I phoned University Hospitals Birmingham and had it confirmed about five minutes before you arrived.” He handed her a printout with the deceased’s details; name, age, rank and back story. “He was a Sergeant in the Royal Fusiliers. IED blast. He was sitting in a Landrover when it happened. They aren’t the most heavily armoured things but as luck would have it he was shielded from the worst excesses of the blast by a colleague who by all accounts wasn’t so lucky. I imagine you’ll want to contact the family etcetera, make sure he’s our man, but I’d say the chances of those x-rays matching anyone else quite so perfectly are pretty slim.”
    She made her way back to the station with a sense of grim resignation. She would doubtless have to deal with a bereaved family now, a job she generally liked to try to avoid, given the gut and heart wrenching nature of dealing with another human being’s most primal emotions. It wasn’t natural, forcing people together in such a way at such a time. She might luck out and find that he had no family but cursed herself for having such a thought. Who was she to wish that on anyone? Why had they given such credence to Campbell’s theory? Some people did just get murdered. That was the one thing culture tended to like to gloss over, a fact society liked to try to ignore because perhaps it was more convenient that way. Better that we should believe our actions lead to something deserved, so we all stay in line. Morality and even religion, for all its faults, were very good controls, rules for the masses, but the fact was, bad things happened to good people too.
    She tried to shake the doubt off. Campbell’s theories, though she hated to admit it, had a habit of being close to the mark. She would keep an open mind as always, in an effort to counter balance his dim view of human nature. Chances were though, the victim was involved in something he shouldn’t have been. And if Campbell was right? How had a soldier, already badly injured but having come through the worst of it, gone so far off the rails as to wind up in all of this?
    How did society allow this to happen? Was it the result of post-traumatic stress or some kind of anger he’d come back from a war zone with along with his injuries? Who knew? Thousands of young people she supposed.
    She stopped for a fag outside the station before entering. Really she felt she could do with a vodka to go along with it but gone were the days when she could handle an afternoon on anything other than soft drinks. Maybe it was less about ageing than the intensity of the job. Her afternoons seemed to be very full.
    “You alright hair?” was what Campbell greeted her with when she walked back into the incident room.
    She chose to pretend she had ignored this, surreptitiously checking her appearance with the mirror app on her phone to avoid doing anything that would imply he’d caused her anything more than a second’s instinctive annoyance, and found nothing amiss. She looked in his direction and found he was looking up at her from his chair expectantly, like a dog looking forward to a game of fetch.
    “What?” was all she could come up with, though she injected as much scorn as she possibly could into that one word.
    “Just, you’ve been spending so much time with the boss lately.” He looked conspiratorially at DS McKay who continued to act as though he was alone in the room, determined not to play ball. “Me and John here thought we should christen you hair.”
    “I see.” she answered, thinking anything but. “I’ve not been spending that much time with him.”
    “Oh I don’t know hair. I think you’re maybe protesting a wee bit too much.”
    “Ok,” she shrugged, playing along on the basis he just might shut the fuck up quicker. “What does that have to do with my hair?”
    “Not hair,” he boomed, nudging a still seemingly oblivious McKay in an effort at boisterous solidarity. “H A R E as in Burke and. A regular pair of resurrectionists you two.”
    “Oh I see.” She replied. “Well I hope you didn’t spend all morning on that one.”
    “No concern of yours if I did,” Campbell huffed. “You’re not my boss yet lassie.” Looking for one last chance of back up from McKay, which was consistently absent, he returned to his paper.
    “No,” she agreed, before making herself a cup of tea without offering one, just to make the point. “Not yet.”
* * *
    Davie wasn’t having the best of mornings. First of all the Bobcat had started playing up again, hydraulic problem or something, which meant he couldn’t reply on its loader to do the donkey work and would have to start carting bales to bed up the cows by hand. Colin had buggered off with the quad bike, taking that option out of the game too, so it was all down to muscle, the old fashioned way. His dad said it would do him good. About time he did some exercise that didn’t involve pulling levers, pushing throttles or lifting pints.
    To be fair he wasn’t in the best condition these days, should never have jacked in the rugby this year but they’d dropped him from the first team and even though he knew he was taking a hacksaw to his nose just to piss off his face he still had his pride to think about.
    Looking at his dad’s belly was enough to remind him that you really did need to keep active. Even then you probably couldn’t rely on exercise too much. You probably needed to cut out the chocolate biccies at eleven o’clock too, judging by the way the fat ginger yin’s gut was starting to stretch at the poppers on his boiler suit. Surely the old boy should just go for a bigger size and stop kidding himself, trying to hold it all together with a big belt he’d brought back from a trip to California many moons ago when he was still young and not out of touch the way he was now.
    Not that Davie would attempt to tackle him, even now. He’d never admit it, but the old yin still put the fear of god in him, towering above as he seemed to, even though they were technically the same height and Davie probably had a year or twos growth left in him if he could only give up the fags.
    He tried texting Andy a few times through the course of the morning but nothing doing. Huffy bastard. Alright, so they had to leave him there when those Polish boys had given chase, but there were a few of them and they looked like they meant business. They had taken it all a bit seriously if he thought about it. It had only been a bit of fun. Not like anyone meant any real harm was it? Fair enough they had kind of battered Andy, or at least knocked him out and left him to sleep it off but the guy probably did deserve some kind of revenge. He had lost his two front teeth after all. He shouldn’t think that way though. Andy was a mate and you should always stick up for your mates. Even if they were being particularly whiney you had to have their backs.
    Still no response though, even after he’d kept his mobile on all night, turned the ringer up just in case, still nothing. Maybe he’d been in such a huff with them he’d just phoned that sister of his to come and pick him up before they had plucked up the courage to go back looking for him. He might have said though. Would have saved them some time. She could pick Davie up any time she liked. Not that it was likely, she was a couple of years older and a couple of light years out of his league. What could you do though? You couldn’t write yourself off like that. You had to keep trying.
    He decided he’d text Andy again one last time and leave it at that. If the huffy wee bugger didn’t want to play ball that wasn’t Davie’s problem. Some people just needed more of a sense of humour about them.


    Edwards was starting to outstay his welcome. It wasn’t so much that he did or said anything to make him any more annoying that the average career hungry wannabe top-dog. It was more the fact that he seemed to believe and embrace his own hype so wholeheartedly. It was more what he didn’t do or say in terms of his dealings with everyone around him that had the effect of making him an irritant. He was like an eyeful of chilli pepper, or maybe more like an eyeful of annoying condescending bastard.
    It was implicit, Burke supposed; the air of grandeur and unquestioned sense of entitlement that can only be instilled from a young age.
    Whatever; common decency dictated he should at least try to be tolerant, which was how they wound up in The Cask and Barrel, hanging off a pair of pint glasses, filled only with coke, owing to the time of day.
    “I need this James, like you wouldn’t believe. Everything’s contracting. Know what I mean?”
    Burke had a feeling he did.
    “Everything’s being centralised, we’re all set to be one service and it won’t be long before the axe falls, you mark my words. First we’re part of a bigger beast, Police Scotland, one force, which could seem ok for movement and progression, seamless transition to different roles in different areas but you know there won’t be the opportunities, that’s the thing. They’ll be cutting expenses as always and this whole independence thing looming.” He snorted. “That’ll cut us off from everything if it happens. I’m off. I’ll tell you that much.”
    “Really?” Burke heard himself say a bit too enthusiastically.
    “Yes.” Edwards replied, dragging out the vowel as he clearly thought for a second and decided to confide his monumental plans. “Serious Organised Crime.”
    “Serious Organised Crime?” Burke repeated, losing the will to live with every syllable as he looked longingly out of the window at what seemed to be welcoming drizzle right then.
    “Yes. Serious Organised Crime. The UK’s very own answer to the FBI or who knows, maybe Europol. You have to think big.”
    “Europol.” Burke repeated, wondering how bad pneumonia really was.
    “Shouldn’t feel like a big fish in a small pond anymore. That’s the whole thing for me James. We’re part of a bigger world, a global village.”
    Burke noted that he could make a suggestion for village idiot if required, should the vacancy become available.
    Edwards sat up as though addressing a much larger audience, which was no small achievement, given the size of the booth they were in. “Let me ask you this Jim. What’s the most important factor in getting on in any business?”
    “Knowing how to make a decent cup of coffee?”
    “I’ll give you that.” Edwards conceded as he pulled a pen from his pocket, looking as though he was about to move this lecture along into one involving diagrams on the table, but instead merely attempting to use it as a pointing device, though directing it at nothing in particular. “But before that.”
    There was a pause as Burke wondered whether he was actually supposed to answer what may or may not have been a question, realised he was and then fought a mini battle in his own head; one where he resolved not to utter the phrase “I don’t give a shit” purely on political grounds.
    “It’s not what you know…” Edwards encouraged, seemingly unaware he was simultaneously encouraging the urge Burke had to break his nose or at the very least stamp on his toes before repeatedly jamming his fingers in a door. Instead he decided to frown in a way he felt sure suggested a state of abject confusion but equally could have conveyed constipation or the onset of coronary arrest.
    “It’s… who…“ Edwards continued in the manner of a school teacher who has lost all sense of irony and self-respect.
    “You bribe.” Burke suggested.
    “Might help to grease the wheels I’m told but I couldn’t possibly comment. I was going for ‘who you know’”
    “I see,” Burke replied. Not like he was a detective inspector or anything.
    “All I need to do is get my name out there, you know, make some connections and I’ll be in. I’ll be playing on a whole other field. The same with Europol. Europe is just such a bigger thing to get my teeth into. There are so many opportunities there. I just need a starting point.”
    “Didn’t Hitler have a similar idea?”
    “Very droll.”
    “So you need to stand out.”
    “Exactly. If I can put away a suitably big name, such as our boy Andreyevich, well that’s an impressive scalp. People take notice of a catch like that. Then…” he said, taking a seat on the other side of the desk and leaning back in Burke’s chair. “Then I’ll be a shoe in. And don’t think I won’t remember my friends.” He nodded at Burke, who felt as though someone had poured a bucket of ice water down his back. He sincerely hoped Edwards would not remember him.
    “The problem we have right now is the bugger isn’t saying very much is he.”
    “No indeed,” Burke agreed. “The Bratva don’t.”
    “How so?” Edwards asked, not knowing quite what he was being told.
    “The Bratva or the brotherhood…”
    “I know what it is roughly. I’ve even played the video game.”
    Did people still play video games? Burke wondered if Edwards also liked to hang out at the local discotheque, while trying to chat up the local dolly birds or crumpet or some other seventies-ism for women. “Well, you’ll know who they are,” he replied.
    “Of course. Russian Mafia. I’ve only been looking into their activities for the past year.”
    “Well, yes. In this case Lithuanian of course but on the right track.”
    “So he’s not talking because he swore some kind of oath to his Mafia chums and they might come and do him in on that basis. Seems fairly obvious. There are a good many of these shady business types who claim some kind of tenuous connection on the basis it gives them some kind of associated kudos. It’s no secret Andreyevich is in deeper than that and connected to something big. Honour among thieves is a myth though in my somewhat vast experience. Clearly there’s a war going on out there; first Vlad, then the body down in Leith and now Karpov all of which points in Andreyevich’s direction, given that that he’s connected to and probably owns Karpov’s holding company and Vlad was definitely linked to Karpov, who, let’s face it, was a total fucking enigma, there is a connection there. He just may turn out to be the kingpin and I want to take him down. It’s a fortuitous wind that blew him in our direction. I doubt he’s actually connected to the murders directly and frankly that’s not my issue, but if we can use what he’s in for and the murders as leverage, maybe offer him some kind of protection, we can certainly have a go at twisting his arm. If he knows, or at least thinks he knows he’s going down, and let’s face it, he has no way of knowing we don’t do wild-west justice over here, he might lift the lid on the whole shooting match. All we have to do is make him feel at home and think that the same standards apply here. Do you know how much coke there is on the streets right now?”
    Burke shook his head.
    “Well I do and let me tell you it’s not a trifling matter and not just something that’s gonna blow over at any moment. And do you know where it’s all coming from?”
    Again Burke shook his head.
    “Well neither does anyone else and that’s the point. While it’s good for business so to speak in the sense that it keeps all of us in a job, it’s one that seems more and more like treading water in a bog on a daily basis. I want out. I want to catch the big fish and Andreyevich has the look of the prize Marlin about him. We have to convince him to talk while we have him here.”
    “That might be your problem.”
    “How so?”
    “I don’t think he’ll ever talk.”
    “Why the defeatist attitude? There’s always a way. We just need to push the right buttons. As I say, fear must be the best motivation we have; fear of the unknown. If we can convince him we can protect him from the bigger players back home we’re in. And the lawyer didn’t look much cop. He’s never even been in this situation before. Just keep plugging away Jim. That’s all we have to do.”
    “He’s not keeping schtum because he’s scared.”
    “Then why else? An oath? I don’t buy it.” He scoffed and then inhaled deeply before letting out the sigh of a man frustrated by a lack of cooperation.
    “It doesn’t matter whether you buy into it or not. What matters is what he buys into.”
    “Ok,” Edwards sighed, “I’ll humour you. Go on.”
    “We’ve, or rather you’ve established that Andreyevich and Karpov are involved in some way.”
    “Undoubtedly. I’m certain Andreyevich owns the majority of the venture capitalist firm who own Karpov’s portfolio of companies. It’s a murky trail I grant you but we have had some forensic accountants look into it and the paper trail so far as I can tell, or more importantly as far as they can tell, looks to lead back to Lithuania and Andreyevich.”
    “And what do you know about Andreyevich’s background?”
    “Businessman.” Edwards coughed conveying his thoughts on this. “Known to have been involved in some fairly ropey property deals back in the mother country, where local officials who got in the way then got vanished, that kind of thing. Further back, known to have been someone who could get his hands on things. Had a reputation as a top class thief. Records are not quite what they might be. He goes off grid for some time in his late teens and early twenties, thought to have been doing time. Hazard of the job in the tea leaf trade. On the surface there’s nothing to link him to anything, but there are always stories, intelligence from the ground that hasn’t been officially documented. Things he’s ordered done to people’s families. One official tried to block a development in Vilnius, our boy’s home town. His whole family went missing for a month. When they did begin to show up, it was in instalments and I mean small instalments, in the mail. As a warning to others I’d say that was fairly effective, especially when no ransom note was ever attached and no demands were ever communicated.”
    “Ok, so we know he spent time in prison.”
    “We’re pretty much certain of that.”
    “Well, going on Karpov it looks likely, and again I know what you mean about the murky records situation, believe me, I find it hard to trace very much on him without probably sending someone out there, and frankly we don’t have the funds. The surgeon’s coming back in here this afternoon with a solicitor of his choosing. Let’s hope he’s not doing any nervous boob jobs or face lifts and that no one gets stabbed in the eye with a wayward Botox needle in the mean-time. You could just about peel the Karpov’s skin off and stick it to the wall to get the edited highlights of his life story in hieroglyphics.”
    “Really?” Edwards asked. “Into Egyptology was he?”
    “A more local form of artwork. Russian or at least eastern bloc prison tattoos, all of which tell a story.”
    “The fact he has them surely tells a story all of its own.”
    “It does, but more specifically, each of the symbols has a different meaning.” Burke switched on his laptop and waited as it powered up and tried to connect to the internet via a dongle that had to wage a war with the pub’s thick stone walls.
    “And what’s to stop the wannabe just inking himself with whatever symbol they feel the need to display, assuming they wanted to get a step further up the hierarchy without doing the leg work? It’d be a quick way to do it.”
    “It’s strictly enforced by the prison gangs. They’ve been known to cut out the piece of flesh containing the tattoo or even beat people to death for less.”
    He waited some more. Finally when the net was accessible again and he was able to read his emails he saw the one from Doc Brown with around fifty attached Jpegs, each showing a different chapter in Karpov’s extensively inked back story, reading to the trained eye like an odyssey of crime.
    As Edwards flicked through the grim reel of photographs Burke gave a running commentary as best he could. “If we start with the neck, we can see that there is a dagger here with various drops of blood which are, well, dripping as they do. The knife indicates that Oleg was an assassin available for hire. That’s apparently one of the older ones, so possibly one of the ways he got his start in the business if you like. The drops of blood indicate that he has managed to off thirteen people at that stage. Perhaps he thought it was lucky to stop there.”
    “I suppose on the upside they were thirteen criminals.”
    “Our local friendly pathologist suggests that this one is over thirty years old, meaning Karpov was probably only in his late teens when he got it done. Moving on, the cat on his chest tells us that he was a thief and clearly proud of it, possibly why he was inside in the first place. The church with the multiple onion domes, rather than being a souvenir from St Basil’s Square actually symbolises time spent in the clink. The number of spires, in this case ten, indicates the number of years spent inside. Interestingly here there’s a rose on the left calf. If it was a white one it would symbolise the superiority of death over a loss of virtue, but the red one, with thorns indicates coming of age in the big house. The orthodox cross on his chest shows that he was eventually a high ranking criminal as does the epaulette on his shoulder and the star underneath. He has similar stars here.” Burke moved the slide show on to show two eight pointed stars geometrically stylised as asymmetrical images on each knee. “These tell the world that he will kneel before no one.”
    “Top dog then,” Edwards said, shuffling through some more slides and coming to an abrupt halt at Karpov’s groin which, due to the surrounding artwork, with eyes, gave that part of his body the look of an elephant. “Cheeky one there.”
    “Also the thing that led us to the surgeon,” Burke added. “There’s a tattoo for everything in the joint.” He flicked through to one last image. In gothic script, over the heart, the letters V O R were inscribed. “Recognise those?” he asked a clearly confused Edwards.
    “Should I?”
    “Not especially. Does the phrase Vori V Zakone hold any meaning for you?”
    Edwards’ blank expression gave away the depths of his knowledge on this. Should have studied harder, thought Burke.
    “Thieves in law. A fairly serious bunch.”
    “Well if they’re anything like my in-laws they probably do.”
    “Vory V Zakone or the Vori as they tend to be known, are a society all of their own. They originally sprung up out of the destitution in the wake of the communist revolution; prisoners who vowed to fight authority and orthodoxy of any kind. These guys are no mere Russian mafia, they’re a religious order almost. They’ve been around a hundred years or so and they’ve scaled the ranks of society in that part of the world during that time.”
    “I hate a social climber,” Edwards chimed in.
    “Well, these guys controlled the prisons in what was the Soviet Union, probably not the yacht club cocktail parties you were thinking of. With the collapse of communism they’ve managed to infiltrate other facets of life. Yeltsin had one of them as his minister for human rights until they discovered he’d helped a good few souls shuffle their way off this mortal coil in a previous incarnation. Some of them are pretty peaceful on the outside world now and of course, some of them or at least one of them, until very recently, was running a holding company here in our own capital city.”
    “So you don’t think he’ll be easily broken then?”
    “Not so much.”


    Jones phoned the barracks of 42 Commando in Plymouth before lunch and received a swift return call in the way on the military knew how. In the time it took her to check her texts (totally dissatisfying), check her emails (too many) and scoff a cheese sandwich she had an officer on the line.
    Captain Saville was well spoken; clipped in the way the military liked their officers to be she supposed. She wondered if that was something they trained into them directly, if it was merely a by-product of their environment or actually something they selected for at interview stage. She also wondered if he had a moustache, but then reminded herself that as this wasn’t 1956 that was fairly unlikely. He could have been a hipster she thought, but they all worked in marketing and lived in whatever part of whatever city was about to become up and coming, not a military base just outside Plymouth.
    “So, you wanted to know about Leon Williams?” he asked.
    “I do indeed,” she replied. “Obviously we got his name from University Hospitals Birmingham in relation to some reconstructive surgery he had done.”
    “Yes. Nasty business that,” Saville confirmed. “Don’t know the ins and outs of it myself if I’m totally honest. Can’t pretend I was out there in the thick of it so to speak, but by all accounts they were just going about their business. Routine journey and they had to stop for whatever reason. IED; that’s what got them. So often is of course.”
    “Yes,” she agreed, before realising she hadn’t a clue and only went by what she heard on the news. They could be battling wild turkeys for all she knew. It all depended on what the main stream media were fed or in some cases cared to divulge. “Not that I’d know,” she added swiftly, a slight twinge of guilt reflecting in her voice as she did.
    “You don’t want to either,” Saville said. “And really, nor do I. Not something I’ve ever had the misfortune to deal with.”
    “Did you know Marine Williams, Captain Saville?” she asked, trying to move the conversation on before she put her foot in it again.
    “Not personally, no. Obviously I was aware of the incident when it happened. We’re a fairly tight unit. News does rather tend to travel fast and bad news really hits home when it comes.”
    “I’m sure.”
    “Anyway, I’ve asked around and he does seem to have been very well liked. Apparently he did quite a lot to help those less fortunate than himself when he was a patient at UHB. Kept their morale up, that kind of thing. Not a talent to be underestimated I can tell you.”
    “Did he have any history of problems? Anything to do with drugs say?”
    “No, model of discipline as far as his record goes. That’s not to say he wasn’t involved with anything untoward. You can never really know what goes on off-base, but with random testing you’d have to be a bit of a fool. As far as I am aware though, he was a good egg both on and off-base.”
    “He didn’t leave under a cloud then?”
    “No, not at all. He was honourably discharged having done his service to Queen and country.”
    “Do you know where he went to next?”
    “I really couldn’t say but he certainly has family according to his record or he did five years ago. We’re sending his dental records. I suppose the hard part will be informing whoever he left behind, especially if he did go off the rails a bit.”
    “Yes well, all part and parcel of the job.”
    “I bet. Can’t be easy though. It can be very common as well, this sort of thing.”
    “What’s that?”
    “Ex-servicemen losing their way somewhat, especially after the kind of things they can go through with modern warfare. You know we lost at least three men in that explosion? Another two badly injured, Williams and another chap who wasn’t quite so lucky, lost one leg just above the knee and the other just below. Not surprising some of our lads get PTSD. How are you supposed to readjust to normal life when you get a rude awakening to the fact that just sitting in a traffic jam can be the prelude to a bloody ambush? Part of one’s brain must always stay tuned in to that.”
    She thanked him for his time and he assured her that the dental, medical and any other relevant records would be with her shortly.
    Now all she had to do was tell Burke and hopefully manage to avoid the part where someone had to tell the family.
* * *
    Simon Watson was not having a good day. In the dictionary definition of good day, assuming he slipped into a parallel universe where there were dictionaries that contained phrases, this would be the opposite of the definition, the anti-good day.
    First of all he was in here, surrounded by the joys of decay, disease and death. Maybe last night had been the tail end of the worst day and this was merely the aftermath, but it hadn’t started that way. They had been going for it, having handed in the final essay due before the Christmas holidays, one he’d spent literally ages on owing to the marks he’d received for that last one, presumably for contradicting that blasted hippy lecturer in a tutorial the week before. Bloody communist. Who was he to say he knew all about the ins and outs of Proust? He’d only tried to inject a bit of personality into the thing, and now he was getting a hard time for not giving a balanced enough viewpoint.
    Give it time, Simon would have a column in one of the broadsheets. They’d feel the full weight of his personality then. Where would the lecturer be when he was snorting his way round The Groucho Club of a Friday night? Fuck him. Jobsworth.
    The nurses weren’t much better. He’d thought he could at least while away some time by giving them some of his diamond chat, but real life, it seemed, was not like a carry-on film, even if one of the nurses was a dead ringer for Kenneth Williams.
    They’d been celebrating their arses off the previous afternoon. They’d all agreed to head to The Alexander Graham Bell to get some cheap Wetherspoons booze. He’d thrown up on arrival. He could remember that but everything else was a bit hazy. He remembered getting confused talking to a girl who said she was from Irvine but who he thought had said she was from Girvan, or was it the other way round?
    That was about the time the short chavy guy had started on Alistair. Had he done the gallant thing and stood in between them and the girl from Irvine? Was that why he was here? It seemed likely the more he thought about it, on the off chance she’d thought him chivalrous and wanted to take him home.
    Everything had escalated quickly after that. Punches were thrown and then the fat guy appeared, like some kind of Tasmanian devil, just whirling around, a ball of chaos catching everything in his path. He thought that was what had happened. He’d got sucked in by the gravity of that ball and now he was busy trying not to throw up or see everything in duplicate. Kenneth Williams had told him it would all be fine, before dishing out a breakfast that would have had most people checking out early possibly literally and metaphorically, regardless of their symptoms.
    When the suited and booted guy stood before him his task was much easier than expected. He introduced himself as Giles Herriot-Watt and at first Simon thought he must be taking the piss.


    Jones put in a call to the Met. There was something inherently hard core sounding in the act, so much so that she had to resist telling anyone who would listen that was what she was about to do. It just sounded cool; like she was dealing with the big hitters, rather than simply making a call to London.
    Williams hadn’t been reported missing but his last known address had been in London. His record was surprisingly blank for a man supposedly involved in the drug game. Campbell’s theory was starting to look almost as thin as his hair, though she still found it curious that it all fitted together so well; the timing and the execution method as well as the seemingly tit for tat nature of Karpov’s demise following so soon. At least the fact that he was last known at his parents address in Dulwich meant that she wouldn’t have to break the bad news. That wasn’t conducive to a restful night’s sleep in her albeit limited experience.
    She got a call back from a DS Carter, who said he’d dispatched someone to tell the parents, who didn’t seem to think he’d been missing. As far as they’d been aware he was a civil servant and just worked a lot.
    Social media wasn’t being overly helpful either. He didn’t leave much of a footprint. No Linkedin profile, Facebook account, Twitter, Myspace or even Bebo, not that seemed to be for her Leon Williams anyway. There was an accountant, a key account manager (salesman), CEO (wannabe entrepreneur) and a film director (who for some reason appeared to be temporarily working as a data entry clerk these past five years.) Myspace revealed a musician, but one that was a bit too pasty faced and a bit too folky to be her Leon Williams.
    She could find no details on yell.com either. It seemed she was dealing with a ghost.
    “It all seems a bit spookish,” DS Carter said, having recounted the same information from their end.
    “Surely you mean spooky.” Jones said.
    “Do I?” he asked.
* * *
    Burke had almost given up. He was reaching the end of his rope on this one. The chances of Andreyevich falling on his knees and confessing to everything for the sake of any kind of deal ranged between slim and fuck all. Edwards had his eye on the bigger picture and that was only fair he supposed. If the guy wanted to head to a bigger hunting ground then he deserved a shot at it, if only for having the nerve to keep going in the face of what if he was honest looked like a case that was dead in the water.
    There was no way Andreyevich was giving anything up, on principle as much as anything. He could not be seen to be cooperating with authority, by his own conscience as much as anyone else. Whether through brainwashing or otherwise it was likely he’d fully embraced those principles in full. There was nothing half-arsed about him. He knew that now for sure. He’d needed something to convince him of the Lithuanian’s commitment to his chosen order, to silence the doubting voices in his own head and had gone to speak to him in the cells, have a heart to heart so to speak. The older man was not, it seemed up for playing ball.
    He had begun to wonder if Andreyevich in fact spoke any English other than the phase “no comment” but confirmed the opposite to be true when John McKay suggested as much in his own broad tones. The snarl from Andreyevich, the look of utter distaste and their ignorance of not only his own culture but his level of knowledge of others was barely suppressed.
    He’d brought the guy a coffee, even gone to Starbucks to get it as a peace offering. Maybe they could discuss things in a civilised way, like two grown men while Edwards was at this point ensconced in Burke’s office, where he continued to camp out with his two underlings and their various laptops. The place was starting to look like an anti tardis; full of gadgets sixties sci-fi writers could scarcely have imagined.
    He thought maybe he could extract something from Andreyevich, even if it was only something more than Edwards had. Had to be better than the square root of fuck all.
    As it turned out, Mr Andreyevich was still not receptive to conversation. His eyebrows did most if not all of the talking, both being raised as if to say nice try pal when Burke handed over the bucket of overpriced sugar syrup and milk, having guessed he was not a double decaf soya latte man. Looking at him, he was more a double chin mocha. He made several attempts at conversation all the while looking at The Times on his phone in a “we’re here for as long as it takes” type of gesture he was fairly certain only worked in films.
    “They say it’s to snow again.” That’s it get him talking about the weather. It’s not as if people who do talk to you can even be bothered with that Burke thought. “Of course, you’d be used to that I guess. I take it you get plenty of the white stuff out there in Vilnius? Probably deal with it more effectively than we do here too. The media do pretty well out of it though. They do pretty well out of all the different types of white stuff it would seem. My colleague, Detective Inspector Edwards, the one with the latest haircut and the taste for skiwear, you remember him, he’s the one who likes to talk a lot.”
    Another movement of the eyebrows.
    “Well he’s of the opinion, Victor, can I call you Victor? What the hell, I can call you Victor. We’re in a jail cell together. I suspect you’re next cell mate may be even more friendly than that. See what happens when you don’t answer? I just keep talking, anyway I’m sure you’re no stranger to being jail gay.”
    Andreyevich looked at him pitifully.
    “As of course your friend Oleg was. His tattoos gave that much away and I’d be willing to guess his boyfriend will give a whole lot more away when he comes in Victor.”
    Victor stood up quickly, too quickly, given the fact he was holding a cup of hot coffee Burke had made extra hot by microwaving until it bubbled. The syrupy liquid doused his sleeve sticking it to his arm and he let out a yelp like a wounded animal. He tore of his shirt to reveal his own life story in pretty prison pictures and Burke paid attention, looking for specifics and finding what he needed.
* * *
    Douglas looked tense on arrival in the interview with brief in tow, tense in the way that suggested he’d spent time on his own getting wound up about this. His eyes implied he may also have tried to do counter the effects with whatever chemicals his occupation granted him access to. The bags underneath were grey in contrast with the eyeballs themselves which had pinkened since their last meeting. His skin was an off white, a shade Rachel would doubtless be able to name at a glance. She’d spent time considering the colours most conducive to the calmness and safe emotional and mental development of their soon to be sprogg. But Burke doubted this was one she’d ever choose to paint a nursery, certainly not with the infusion of veins as sported here. In the end she’d settled for buttermilk, a shade of off white he suspected Douglas’s eyes might soon turn if he insisted on self-medicating for any length of time.
    Burke presented the pair with coffees extracted from a nasty vending machine this time, rather than the Starbucks diabetes in a cup he’d used to undress Andreyevich. Douglas looked grateful in a despondent sort of way and Burke caught a whiff of what he knew through hard won experience was vodka. Of course, the choice of the drinker who didn’t want anyone to know he’d been drinking.
    He set up the tape and sat back Campbell accompanied him on this occasion. He’d have preferred Jones if he was honest, more sympathetic perhaps. A woman’s more attuned soft skills might be the order of the day when dealing with such delicate matters. She’d gone AWOL for some reason. He’d catch up with her later but for now he was stuck with the second choice of minion who was doubtless busy sneering at the man on the other side of the table. Not that it mattered. They were here to get information, regardless of hurting anyone’s feelings.
    “So?” He asked. The ultimate open question.
    Douglas looked at his brief for some kind of reassurance and got a look in return that seemed to say get on with it. The lawyer knew he could phone this one in. It wasn’t as if they were really going to do Douglas for drug taking and the use of prostitutes, not in a city where the former happened everyday much as it did everywhere else and the latter was unofficially condoned by the city council in the form of saunas or massage parlours.
    “Well,” Douglas began fitfully, “I, well that is, we,” he looked at the brief again who urged him on. “I take it we can come to some kind of deal?”
    The brief gave him another prod with his eyes, causing Douglas to look more stressed, obviously feeling that he was taking the heat from two sides now.
    Burke looked at him without saying anything. Really he should give Dr Carr some kind of commission for upping his interrogation game with minimal effort, not that it earned him much in the way of results, or actual money.
    “What my client wants to know is,” the lawyer began, hesitating slightly, “you’re not likely to charge him with anything are you? He is of course fully prepared to cooperate with this investigation but he is also very concerned about his reputation as a professional. I have advised him he is under no obligation to say anything.”
    “Of course. And I am not concerned with the fact that he clearly likes to indulge in cocaine and rent boys.”
    Douglas’s head fell at this.
    “However, I am rather concerned with the fact he is clearly not being forthcoming. He is hindering a police investigation. Also, I must ask myself questions in relation to just how deeply your client was involved with Mr Karpov, concerning his business activities, particularly with respect to his involvement in serious organised crime. How involved are you with the Russian Mafia Dr Douglas?”
    Douglas’s eyes widened briefly and he looked as though he might throw up on the table. His face disappeared behind his hands as he tried to rub away the stress from his brow. He at least had access to Botox, Burke thought.
    The lawyer looked at Douglas pitifully, like he wanted to wash his hands of the whole affair. Clearly this wasn’t his bag at all. Give him a drink driver or a sleazy divorce case and he would be as happy as a pig in someone else’s mud but this was not looking good for his client all of a sudden. Not that Burke believed for one minute that Douglas was guilty of anything other than being a twat with a spine that didn’t seem to be doing its job properly. He put Burke in mind of a kid at school who’d been caught keying someone’s car or something equally juvenile and denied it when it came to court, which would have been fine if he hadn’t actually been standing next to an officer of the law when he’d done it. Too spineless to stand up and admit to something even when he’d been caught fair and square, far too keen on pleading mitigating circumstances. While Douglas hadn’t been caught doing anything wrong and had admitted to other things, he knew things that could be valuable and yet was unwilling to help unless he was saving his own skin.
    For a minute Burke thought he may have overplayed it. Maybe his threats or implied ones had actually caused the surgeon to clam up and sent him further towards the catatonic state he seemed destined for.
    “I don’t know anything about that Inspector,” he eventually said. “We never discussed work. I told you that. It wasn’t like I actually could talk about what I did. Doctor patient privilege you know. I’m not allowed to discuss anything, legally.
    Burke had the urge to tell him he wasn’t allowed to do quite a lot of the things they did together legally, but managed to suppress it.
    “I mean there are some names, you know, none I can mention, but local celebrities certainly, who require a certain amount of discretion. I mean, take the example of a former TV presenter, now a respected local businessman who’s had certain procedures done to lessen the subcutaneous fat from his middle and pump up the girth elsewhere shall we say. If that got out I’d be in trouble.”
    “Indeed,” Burke replied, thinking it kind of just had but that it would be unlikely to injure James Lindsay’s career after the sex scandal of the previous year had killed it stone dead.
    The lawyer sank a little lower in his cheap plastic chair.
    “Of course, you could be in bother client wise if and when this comes to court. Although admittedly it’s unlikely to bother the client you seem to be talking about,” Burke added.
    Douglas laughed the hollow laugh of a man who knew he had been beaten. “What do you want to know Inspector? You’re going to have to give me a starting point because frankly I can’t think straight anymore.”
    “Were you there on the night Oleg Karpov died?”
    “I was.”
    “Did you kill Oleg Karpov?”
    Douglas snorted through his tears. “What do you think?”
    “I think I’d like you to answer the question for the benefit of the tape. I’m old fashioned like that.”
    “No Inspector, I didn’t kill Oleg Karpov. I am not a killer. I may have lost the odd patient back in the days before I specialised but I did my damndest to get them back. I’ve taken the Hippocratic Oath and I didn’t have my fingers crossed. It would go against the grain somewhat.”
    “It’s not like you would be too squeamish for it though.”
    Douglas shook his head. “I suppose not, but I’ve always considered myself a sculptor rather than a butcher. I certainly couldn’t have killed Oleg.”
    “As you say, you were close.”
    “About as close as two human beings can be but I suppose that says more about me than anything.”
    “How so?”
    “I don’t think I’ve ever been terribly close to anyone.”
    “I blame my parents more than anything, but of course don’t we all. I’m sure my kids will have plenty to say about me given time. It’s very fashionable these days. You’re not allowed to accept blame yourself. I can see why it sells.”
    “So were you alone?”
    “Not initially. There were other guests. And yes, paid ones before you ask.”
    “Could any of these paid guests have harboured any grudges against Mr Karpov?”
    “Doubtful. He was always more than generous as far as I could tell. In any case Inspector, it wasn’t any of them.”
    “How can you be so sure?”
    “They were quite the wrong shape. The kind of people who frequented Oleg’s place were of a slight build. Not much to them.”
    “You saw the killers?” Burke demanded, as his blood pressure surged.
    “I did,” Douglas replied coldly like he was recounting something much more mundane.
    “What did they look like?” Burke asked, wanting to dive across the table and grab Douglas by the throat but reining himself in, trying not to think about the man hours wasted on this because some chinless wonder didn’t have the guts to come forward.
    Douglas smiled as he took a deep breath and emitted a long drawn out sigh. “I didn’t see their faces Inspector. They were dressed like terrorists or something.”
    “In what way precisely? What do terrorists dress like exactly?”
    “They were head to toe in black and wearing balaclavas. You know, the ones with the holes for eyes. Where do they get those from anyway? Some kind of terrorist shop? Anyway that’s all I could see on the screen.”
    “On the screen?”
    “He had a hefty security system, but surely you know that. The front door and the hallway were both on the big screen at the touch of a button.”
    “Which big screen?”
    “The massive one, the one you can’t miss. That basement’s wired for everything.”
    “What basement?” Burke had a sudden sinking feeling.
    Douglas laughed now, “The one I was cowering in Inspector, the one Oleg liked to have his parties in.” He laughed again. “And the one you so clearly haven’t found.”
    Burke didn’t know what to say to this so he focussed on the questions at hand. “What did you see while you were cowering in the basement?” He asked as calmly as possible.
    “Oleg went to the hallway. He was the worse for wear you might say, so he didn’t really think about who might be there.” Douglas’s eyes seemed to glaze over as he thought about this from what was now presumably a safe distance in his mind’s eye. “I heard the rumbling from upstairs so I checked on the big screen and there it was all happening in front of me. I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. There were three of them, all in black, guys obviously, presumably. They were all large, one particularly rotund, probably older, and all had guns, AK47’s I think.”
    Burke tried to keep him focussed. “Was there any kind of conversation?”
    “Not that I saw, if anything they were ruthlessly to the point.”
    “How do you mean?”
    “Once he was in the hallway they just shot him. I say they, it was the middle one, the fat one who shot him. The others were just there for, well I don’t know what but they just trashed the place after that.”
    “You think they were AK47’s you say?” Burke asked, allowing a break from Douglas’s grim narrative.
    “I could pretty much guarantee that,” Douglas replied.
    “You know a lot about guns?”
    “Not especially, but I know an AK47 when I see one.”
    Douglas sniffed. “Oleg had one proudly attached to the wall in a display case in the basement, which you would know if you’d discovered it.”
    “Or if you’d come forward earlier,” Burke added, probably anything but helpfully, but sometimes you had to say what you were thinking.
    “Of course,” said Douglas. “If you didn’t discover the basement, and Oleg’s other life which is all down there you wouldn’t have known anything about me and I wouldn’t ever have needed to come forward.”
    Burke couldn’t resist a wide smile at this. “No you wouldn’t. Good of you to go out of your way to do that though.”
    “Just get the bastards will you?”
    “Bastard getting does tend to be what I do,” he confirmed, before adding “in the meantime sir don’t go anywhere too far.”


    The spook arrived pretty much unannounced, circumventing the front desk by means of her rank and the accompanying awe that inspired. She’d more or less materialised at the side of Sam Jones’s old desk, a talent which was no doubt handy in her line.
    She introduced himself as Sarah Armstrong with a firm handshake that seemed to fit a little incongruously with her slight demeanour.
    “I hope you don’t mind. I’m going to have to keep this brief. I’m due on a flight back to London in under an hour,” she said with a quick glance at an expensive watch.
    “You sure you’ll make it?” John McKay asked. “Traffic’s murder this time of day.”
    “Ways and means,” she replied, before asking to see his senior officer.
    McKay informed her that Detective Inspector Burke was in fact in an interview at present.
    “I think you’d better go and get him just the same,” she said, in the manner of a woman who was not used to being told no.
    McKay knocked on the door to find Burke winding up the interview with the surgeon.
    “Who is it?” Burke asked, probably put out at the loss of a chance to go off and hide somewhere for a bit.
    “Says she’s from Whitehall,” McKay replied. “Security services.” He mouthed “MI5” so neither the surgeon nor his brief would get too much wind of it.
    Burke made his way back to the main office, without saying a word. Maybe he didn’t actually know what to say and he was thinking up different scenarios. It was hard to tell at the best of times just what went on in the young guy’s head.
    The PC who’d been in the interview escorted the surgeon and his lawyer to the front entrance.
    McKay nearly managed to catch up with Burke as he rounded the corner into the main body of the office but he was too quick. By the time the boss had shaken the spook’s hand and moved her off into his own broom cupboard, evicting Edwards’ bam pot entourage, he’d been left behind in the rush.
    He stared through the glass partition into Burke’s office as the two chatted seemingly calmly, Burke nodding in a way that suggested the spook was imparting some serious information.
    McKay found himself wishing his lip reading skills were better.
* * *
    Andy had managed to spend the whole day in a trance. He’d previously thought this would only be possible following a heavy night on the booze, chemically anaesthetised. Now he realised concussion was more than capable of the job.
    The girls chatted amongst themselves in whichever language it was. He realised he had no clue which language was actually spoken in Georgia, or the Ukraine, or most places if he thought about it. Ignorant really, just assuming everyone with an Eastern European accent had to be Polish, but then that was the most likely possibility round here. A good few Polish people had moved into the area to find work and this being Wigtownshire there weren’t many people here, let alone different nationalities. It was always more of a gene puddle than a pool really, not surprising that anyone vaguely different stood out like the proverbial sore thumb.
    He got the sense that something was up and the girls knew more about it than he did. The urgency of their whispered tones made him nervous. If they thought they had problems, chances were, he was fucked.
    He heard another plane land. You couldn’t miss it in the quiet night. He wondered what this time. The last one seemed to have been taking off, the accelerating engine, sounding like a wayward petrol lawnmower, one of these ones middle aged men sat on that looked like toy tractors and gave the retired accountant an hour of fun every second Sunday pretending to be Old McDonald.
    This time it sounded like the engine was slowing, killed at the last minute, before the screech of tyres on the tarmac, as presumably the plane touched down. It couldn’t be good news at any rate, unless this was the cavalry being flown in to rescue him, or better still, some dozy lawnmower owner who’d got lost and had actually killed the engine before executing a handbrake turn or a doughnut. He’d probably be happy with that, especially if it distracted his captors and gave him the chance to bolt.
    He tried to get the girls attention but they were still too busy talking at each other. There was a lot of background noise but he didn’t fancy shouting. Funny how a hostage situation felt somehow like being back at school. One thing was for sure, he wouldn’t be getting Stockholm Syndrome for these boys anytime soon. That’s if they let him live for any length of time.
    He couldn’t be sure of the girls though. They might be well far along with the whole assimilation into the cult thing. There must be a way out of here. He couldn’t get the cable ties undone himself, he knew that. But it wasn’t like they were actual hand cuffs, they should be easy enough with the right thing, something sharp or flammable. He twisted his wrists as he thought about it, trying to find any give where he knew there was none. He could try scraping them on the pallet, but that wouldn’t work in a short enough time, i.e. before they decided to dispose of him.
    Eventually he managed to get their attention by whistling. The high pitch cut through both the noise from outside and their whispered scheming.
    “What do you want? Water?” Ania asked as she made her way across the room in a quiet way. Maybe there were cameras in here he thought.
    “Is there any way you can let me loose?” he asked her. Better to die trying than face the end having done nothing and wondering what might have been.
    She shook her head slowly.
    “You have nothing sharp?” he asked slowly, like a tourist who thinks his lack of language skills can be rendered unimportant by close adherence to the principles of vocal projection. “Nothing that burns?”
    Again she shook her head. Of course, what was he expecting her to say? ‘Oh here have this sulphuric acid/laser beam/plasma cutter we forgot about’?
    “What about your friends?” he asked, clutching at straws in a way only the doomed knew how.
    “They have nothing,” she replied, looking at the floor before looking back at him with concerned eyes and touching the side of his face with an icy hand that somehow, despite all odds, felt warm.
    He tried rubbing the cable tie on the upright bar of the pallet he sat on again, frantically this time, but nothing. He kept going until the sting in his wrists grew too much and he could feel the warm trickle of blood drizzling down his hand.
    There must be a way. He would not die here. He wouldn’t allow it. It was too stupid a way to go. Held by a bunch of nutters on the basis that you decide to play a practical joke, one that wasn’t even on them really. The joke was more just one between him, Davie and Colin, pretending to be master surveillance experts and professional saboteurs. Well, the punch line had gone down like a lead balloon and now no one was laughing.
    He heard footsteps approaching and the door was thrust open, flooding the inside of the shed with light, practically blinding him and his fellow inmates. The girls huddled together in the corner as two of the Georgians made their way purposefully towards them.
    They seemed to huddle and scatter in turn, like sheep, the last five or so in a field, difficult to move or pin down or keep together in any kind of cohesive group but tough to separate in order to pick them off one by one. In this case they didn’t have to as one of the girls was on the ground convulsing suddenly, before lying still. The others focussed on her like a car crash.
    It was then he saw the wires connecting the girl’s body with something in the toothless, bald one’s hand. It was then he couldn’t help himself.
    “Leave them alone you bastards!” He shouted quite unintentionally, wanting to do anything he could to protect the hostage girl on the ground, so far from home and away from those who loved her.
    He was now the target but wouldn’t be for long. The giant made his way towards Andy, a smile spreading across his gaping black hole of a mouth.
    “Fuck you,” Andy spluttered. The anger was in charge now. “You can’t go one on one and you can’t even move a lassie without using a tazer, fucking useless meat head arsehole.”
    The man towered above, looking down on him, moving his neck from side to side and swivelling his shoulders clearly relishing this, ready for the sensory release of knocking seven bells out of this mouthy teenager.
    When he moved it was instant, unthinking and terrifying.
    Andy braced as best he could for the blows that were coming, at least the girls would take less. At least he’d done something good. At least he’d done something.
    When enough time lapsed and nothing happened he opened his eyes to see that gurning face level with his, breathing its foul stench in his. The giant tapped his face gently with a sweaty palm before laughing and walking away to continue with the task in hand.
    Then, he was alone. The plane had departed with its cargo, which had been replaced in his prison by actual cargo in wooden boxes.
    He felt cold and he hoped the end would come soon. The dread that filled his mind left him wondering why they’d kept him alive. He knew it couldn’t be good.
* * *
    Victor lay in his cell waiting. He’d done waiting, in ways lesser men could not hope to imagine. This was nothing, a blip on an otherwise steadily up-sweeping curve towards his ultimate destiny. Some would say his ambitions were unjust but he’d entered a way of life all those years ago in the frozen wastes, a covenant that required honouring. Some of his brethren had parted ways with the true path, sold out as they liked to say here. They had positions of authority, titles and responsibilities, all of which served to uphold the values of an unjust society, a society that was corrupt, rotten to the core and had forgotten its own.
    The communists had come to power promising to free those imprisoned by indentured servitude, only to trap them in their own version of the daily grind, less time spent in the duties of serfdom, more in the bread queue.
    They had called on the brotherhood for help in their war, only to betray them when it mattered and send them back from where they’d taken them to rot once more. Later they had tried to extinguish them with the help of those with ambitions beyond bars and so the time they called the bitch wars had begun.
    He and his kind had survived all of this but now they had been brought to the brink of extinction. Now they were a dying breed and all because of their own failings; their lust for individual power and the trappings of success and above all some form of acceptance by the very thing that had abandoned them in the beginning, this thing they called society, their need to be treated like vulgar celebrities, nothing more than performing bears, by the very people they had sworn to despise.
    He had done waiting and could wait some more, forever if need be. He would live on through his sons and the empire he’d created.
    He laughed at himself and his train of thought. Such thoughts of negativity were pointless. Plans were in motion. All would be well.


    Burke was alone in his office at last. It had been a busy day and it wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down. He placed his feet up on the desk and leaned back in his chair letting the blood run towards his head, feeling his eyes bulge before sitting back up when he felt suitably distracted. He’d read somewhere that people did this for inspiration, hanging upside down with gravity boots to get the extra oxygen into the grey matter. He could see the reasoning, liked the theory even, but couldn’t get over the fact that they recommended the same thing for baldness. If they’d found a genuine cure for that, he decided, it would have been well documented. Nonetheless, the sensation made him feel something other than tired and bedraggled, which was refreshing in itself.
    He phoned home. Any day now he was due to become a father. There was a suitcase packed, a route planned, even a playlist composed on Rachel’s Ipod. She was so very organised, quite the opposite of her husband, who spent his life craving order and even now could not wholeheartedly concentrate because of the awkward angle Edwards had placed his laptop at on his desk, but who did not know where to start. He knew it was a fault; the need to have the coffee table in the living room cleared of all debris or disruptions to his field of vision, the overpowering urge to move that coke bottle on the basis that it would obscure his view of the TV should he choose to lie down, even when he wasn’t planning on it, and he knew that even when it was all done there would be no peace and he still wouldn’t settle. Something always had to be wrong and if he didn’t know what it was, it was just waiting to ambush him.
    “When are you coming home?” she asked.
    “Don’t know darlin,” he replied, for some reason resenting the question like it was just another demand being made on him. He knew deep down it was an invitation. It was her way of telling him she missed him and loved him and that even after all these years he was still the person she always wanted to spend more time with. He knew it was far more than just a nag. “Maybe another hour or two.”
    “That’s not really what I meant,” she said, almost absent minded.
    “Then what did you mean?” he asked, eyeing a takeaway menu. Perhaps he could make it up to her, swing by the Guru Balti on the way home.
    Home. It seemed a long time since he’d been there. He pushed the thought to the back of his mind. He mustn’t go there.
    “Nothing,” she replied, meaning anything but.
    “Ok,” was all he could come up with in response, not really wanting to get into an argument right then.
    “No,” she replied, as if it had been a question, before telling him she would see him when she saw him.
    Might take more than a Guru Balti, he thought as the phone clicked back on the receiver. He leaned back again, looking for a distraction once more.
    Edwards woke him from his trance as he stumbled sweating and snuffling through the door, closely followed by Black and Wilson, whom he’d heard Campbell had renamed Decker, partly because of the obvious fit with her partner’s name but partly because she looked like she could throw a mean right hook.
    “Team run,” Edwards declared, forcing Burke to conclude that he didn’t rate his detection skills highly as he surveyed them all with their lycra compression gear, MP3 player arm bands and red faces.
    Burke nodded to this all the same, unable or unwilling to say anything in return. They were on his turf, in his man cave and he resented the interruption.
    “Thought we’d get some cardio in before heading to the billet,” Edwards added, seemingly feeling this wasn’t obvious either.
    Burke felt the unmistakeable sensation of a penny dropping inside his head.
    Edwards jumped as a phone rang on his arm, deafening him through the adjoining headphones. He tapped the microphone attached, barked his name at whoever was on the other end and fell into a silence for the next few seconds. His face sank as though someone had let the air out of it and then, when all the animation had left it, his lower lip slowly began to curl. “Ok,” was all he said in the end, leaving the other three in the room wondering awkwardly if the call was over.
    “Everything ok?” Burke finally asked, hoping on some level that everything was far from ok and knowing deep down that it was childish.
    “We’re having to let him go,” he answered in a monotone.
    His two minions made a great show of being disappointed, mass outpourings of breath being their initial method of communicating this, followed by the old shake your head and look at the floor when you don’t want to look someone in the eye technique. He particularly loved that old chestnut.
    “How?” Burke asked, somewhat perplexed himself, wondering at the greatest effort at escape since Houdini or possibly The Scarlett Pimpernel.
    Edwards rubbed his eyes and let out a big sigh. “It seems none of the witnesses saw anything. All of them have checked out of hospital and the CCTV in the bar seems to have been corrupted in some way. There’s nothing on the disk it’s stored on.”
    “Magnet?” Burke suggested automatically.
    “Cold hard currency more like,” Edwards snapped. “And now we’re going to have to let him go due to a lack of any evidence whatsoever. I don’t suppose we’ve got anything to link him to the murders?”
    “Nothing so far,” Burke replied, wanting to add “sir,” bristling somewhat at the fact that Edwards had used the word “we,” implying that this was somehow his investigation, which, all things being equal, it probably was but he was damned if he was going to have it underlined to him by a man wearing tights, even if they did have a Nike swoosh on them. “We were going to check the CCTV in town and cross reference it with the drop off zone at the airport, see if we could find out what kind of vehicle he left in and attempt to track it, see where he was dropped off, assuming he didn’t hire a car. It seems unlikely he’d be involved in a revenge execution personally, although we don’t fully know the depth of his connection to Petrovsky. Would he have got his hands dirty?”
    “He might have, if it was an act of revenge,” Black suggested. “Obviously we were letting you run with the whole getting him to reveal his deepest darkest secrets by using an attempted murder rap as leverage plan.”
    Burke resisted the urge to point out that this was neither his plan nor something he personally attempted. This must be how it worked around Edwards, palm the blame off onto someone else if results were not forthcoming. Interesting department culture. No matter. The interview tapes confirmed the contrary.
    “And it might have worked if he wasn’t so connected to everything,” Edwards snapped, bringing Black to heel.
    “I thought he was just an interloping drug dealer,” Burke replied.
    Edwards scoffed. “If only. This guy’s a one stop crime shop. He’s into things the rest of the criminal fraternity haven’t even thought of yet. He’s running drugs, arms, counterfeit fags and booze. He’s trafficking girls from most of Eastern Europe with the promise of the western life and the end result that they wind up working it off in one of his knocking shops. He’s got waiters and shop assistants, employees in airlines and banks, anyone with access to cards getting your details and feeding them back to his cyber bods. He’ll sell you anything you like at a knock down rate, which in this harsh economic climate goes down a storm. He’s got contacts in the mother country who get him access to IP addresses in deepest darkest Siberia so he can bring down whatever the hell he likes and the Ruskies just say nothing because he knows who to pay to turn a blind eye. You name it, he’s into it and that’s fine, but not on my turf. Not on my watch.”
    Burke was torn between rising irritation and confusion at the lack of communication regarding the size of Edwards’ operation and the hilarity of his last statement. It reminded him of Tony Blair trying to sound Churchillian. “Nice to be kept in the loop.”
    “Need to know basis,” Edwards replied, “but yes, there’s a lot more going on than you know.
    “I’m sure, but with all of this going on there can only be more opportunities to catch him at it.”
    “Of course, but we have a tight window of opportunity. How long before he leaves the country? He’s only here for a finite time. We’ve got to make something stick but I’m fucked if I know what.”
    “You must know something,” Burke probed.
    “I know dealers connected to him have got hold of a large amount of pure coke from somewhere, really pure stuff, but no one knows where the hell it’s coming from. You’d expect to see an increased volume stopped at border controls at least. The coastguard, or customs or the ports units should be expected to pick it up but everything’s been very quiet of late. Surprisingly so.”
    “And you haven’t picked up anything from the competition say, if as the theory goes, they’re involved in some kind of chemical arms race.”
    “No sign of that either.”
    “Could they be in this together, using the same supply chain maybe?”
    “Unlikely,” Edwards replied with a patronising grin, “but say that were the case, it’s too big an operation and there would conceivably be too many people involved to not have someone caught along the way. It only takes someone using a yacht too many times on the same route to cause suspicion.”
    “Maybe the competition are trying to corner the market with other things, if Andreyevich is spreading himself too thinly. Might create a gap in the market they might want to shoehorn themselves into.”
    Burke said nothing more, letting the thought hang in the air for a few seconds.
    “There was one episode, a few years back,” Edwards began, causing the beginnings of a smile to form at the corners of Burke’s lips. “Some yardies took it upon themselves to try and kick off a bit of a switch selling scheme.”


    Giles was not used to being ordered around like this. His superiors at the firm had always been respectful, to the lawyers at any rate. Those in polite society at least regarded professionals as having some kind of social standing, even in this dire age of waning formality, where everyone was required to address one another by first name only, lest anyone be allowed to get on in the world and be respected for it.
    His client had said very little, made no attempt at thanking him for services rendered and the accompanying risk to the integrity of his bollocks which had been placed well and truly on the line. A substantial Christmas bonus was in order. He was being well rewarded for this, naturally. That was everything to these new money types. They hadn’t had time to acquire the necessary tastes or interests to spend it properly. He would concede that Andreyevich knew how to travel though. Not for him the driving three hours or catching the three trains and bus it would take to get to their final destination.
    He’d wanted to head back to the flat in Morningside, the place he was now starting to think of as a second home. He wanted to climb into the shower and wash away the scummy residue the day’s events seemed to have left on him and then down half a bottle of Remy Martin and fall into a comatose state.
    There had been no discussion on the subject. His presence was mandatory as far as the client was concerned. End of story. He’d been shown to the car outside the cop shop in Gayfield Square and driven to the airfield at high speed. He hadn’t felt the time to protest present itself. There was a time and a place to raise certain objections with clients, draw a line now and again but he was starting to doubt that was the case here. No one said no to Victor.
    They sat at some kind of a cruising height in the Cessna now, four of the six seats filled by himself, his client and two heavies who looked like they meant business but said very little, certainly nothing to contradict the vibe their collective demeanour gave off. For his part, Andreyevich seemed to stick with a similar theme. He may have been like this all the time. How would Giles know after all? He’d only just met the man. Perhaps all of this; the meting out of casual brutal violence to unsuspecting members of the public, followed by bribery of witnesses, the hacking into Lothian and Borders Police servers to tamper with evidence and locate those witnesses and the owners of the premises, finding an employee willing to assist in the destruction of all CCTV footage and then ensuring the correct pressure was exerted at the correct level to secure his timely release after due consideration of all these facts, then flying off with what could only realistically be described as mercenaries to some God forsaken outpost to do God knew what that required the services of a frankly inexperienced lawyer, maybe all this was just mundane to him. Maybe this was just another day at the office.
    At least the weather wasn’t as extreme as it had been on the way up. Clear skies it seemed, and so far no turbulence. How often did you get to fly like this?
    He was just asking considering that when finally the client turned to him with a look of contemplation. “So maybe now you know quite a lot,” he said with a sigh.
* * *
    Edwards had properly thrown the rattle out and made for the nearest exit. His two minions had hung around for a short time, seemingly none too sure what to do with themselves and probably more than a little embarrassed for their boss, like he was a slightly tipsy parent or a babbling older relative whose mental capacity they were starting to doubt. But then it seemed fitting, dressed as they were like overly preening teenagers most of the time.
    “Something funny sir?” Wilson asked, before looking down, probably realising again that she was admonishing a senior officer.
    “Nothing really,” he replied, enjoying her discomfort.
    Sarah Armstrong worked for “a very particular department in Whitehall” she had said, with a knowing grin.
    She could have been late forties, given her unhurried confidence, but he wouldn’t have put money on it. Burke considered himself a reasonable judge of character but all that went out the window when dealing with certain types of people, specifically the type that specialised in knowing all and telling nothing. This made her all the more intriguing.
    “What can I do for you?” he asked, with the sense of trepidation you got from dealing with someone you knew could have you in a body bag with a phone call, legally, without having to bury you in the woods or explain themselves to the likes of him.
    “I’d say in this case Detective Inspector, it’s more a case of what I can do for you.”
    “Really?” he asked, wondering if he looked like he needed put down.
    “Really,” she confirmed. “And don’t look so nervous. I’m not planning on having you fitted for concrete boots or anything.
    “The thought hadn’t entered my head.”
    She smiled her knowing smile once more and continued. “What do you know of Leon Williams?”
    He let this sink in for a second, taking time to respond. How did GCHQ, MI5 or whoever else know what they were investigating?
    “Not a great deal,” he said finally, deciding there wasn’t much to give away. “He is the subject of an ongoing murder investigation, given the fact he has a spot in our city morgue.”
    “Quite, but what do you actually know about him?”
    “I’m not sure where this is going. What is it you want to know? Is there a reason you’re investigating him?”
    “In a sense yes,” she replied. She was probably a good poker player, Burke decided.
    “In all honesty we don’t know a hell of a lot,” he admitted. “Ex-marine commando, injured in Afghanistan, seemingly got mixed up with the wrong people after he left the forces and wound up here. We’re not sure what he got mixed up in but it looks like some kind of drug war.”
    The spook nodded slowly as he spoke and Burke knew he wasn’t telling her anything new.
    “You’re right of course, in a sense. He did get mixed up with the wrong people,” she said with a sigh. “He was one of ours.”
    He eventually summoned the energy to take a trip out into the cold. He took a skulking DC Jones who had been hanging around his peripheral vision since this afternoons visitor had presented herself, presumably wanting to know the script. She managed to skirt around the subject, all the way from Gayfield Square to Karpov’s palatial home in Bruntsfield. He wasn’t biting. She’d have to try harder than that.
    The headlights shone on the dark hulk of a house now making it look as if it had been abandoned for years, aside from the scene of crime notices which were too bright to be anything but modern. They entered via the front door, disabling the alarm system and fumbling for the lights in the hallway. The place still reeked of carnage
    Something moved to his left. He turned to see a figure emerge from the gloom before it knocked him sideways. They burst through the front door as he turned trying to follow but lost his footing. A crashing sound behind told him there was a second intruder. He turned again to see another figure in black run towards him. Jones tried to get in the way but only managed a glance blow to the side of the runner. The man let out a growl as he ran for Burke who stood his ground knowing he had a weight advantage. His heart lurched as he saw something glint in the black gloved hand. He held on for a second more before shifting his weight sideways as the man threw himself forwards, top heavy, swinging the blade. The knife caught his left hand as it moved outwards to counter the side-step and he let out a yelp as he swung the rest of his body back round, catching his assailant with a well-placed blow to the side of the head sending him staggering headfirst into the doorframe. The man’s head made a sickening thump before his body gave way beneath, collapsing into a tangled heap on the floor. He felt the sting in his hand and he was only prevented from aiming an angry kick at the slumped would be ninja by Jones, who got in the way in her efforts to get the bastard cuffed.
    Once he was suitably restrained, they removed the balaclava from his head to reveal the face of what could not have been more than a teenager.
* * *
    Andy woke again, hearing the commotion outside. Had another plane landed? He’d heard trucks come and go; feed trucks, oil tankers, the kind of thing that wouldn’t normally cause him to bat an eyelid down here but now everything seemed to have a double meaning. Every movement, noise, flicker of disrupted light through the slatted wall, it all seemed like a sign of something, and all of it gave cause for alarm.
    His life was now an endless night punctuated by a succession of shocks and starts. He was no longer sure what he’d dreamt and what was real at points.
    In his more lucid moments he’d begun to take stock. His life played out before him, not so much in a montage as they said it did before you died, more like a very deliberate purge of hard drives. Every misdemeanour, from the seemingly insignificant, like the time he broke his mum’s favourite vase, to the gut wrenching, like the time he slept with Davie’s ex and hadn’t had to blame anyone as it still lay buried in the back of his conscience, unattended, along with everything else. It wasn’t so much a closet full of skeletons as a bone collection, like that church in Prague he’d read about at school while he should have been studying for his higher history exam. That was what he enjoyed above all else, apart from the sex and the alcohol and the cheap thrills that were part of the human condition. If they were to tell him he never had to work again, that he’d won the lottery that was what he’d do, not for money but just the sheer pleasure of it. He’d research the things he was interested in; history, politics, world wars, the industrial revolution, communism, fascism, capitalism and socialism, the rise and fall of empires and everything else in between.
    That was what they said, wasn’t it? Work out what you would do to while away the hours if money was no object. That was it. In between girls and beer he would most like to find out about stuff.
    But money would never be no object, that was the point, and anyway it looked as though he was going to end his days here. He’d have thought someone might have missed him, but then the parents were still away and his sister was at Vet school during the week. He wondered where Davie and Colin thought he’d got to though. He’d have thought he could have counted on those two, feckless arseholes that they were. In the darkness and encroaching cold of the now nearly empty prison, he had made himself a promise. If he ever did make it out of here he would go and study history and politics. Not agriculture, as he was sure would have made more sense, not business, which might have given him a broader outlook career wise, but history and politics, for the love of it and for the fact he had another shot and would not waste it. Not in between beer and girls.
    That had been hours ago, maybe days ago for all he knew and it had kept him going since. Planning, considering each possibility in depth. What if he became a lecturer or a professor or something? Then he could nothing but study the things that interested him for the rest of his days. Was that even doable for a country bumpkin? Surely he had to have a good knowledge of tweed jackets or speak in a certain way to get on in that world. Did it pay well? Did it matter? They would probably have to sell the farm anyway. His sister wasn’t planning on taking it on and there wasn’t the income for both of them. The possibilities though, they were something that he clung to.
    The commotion got louder outside it sounded like the goon squad were trying to move something. It almost sounded like livestock, like a struggling sheep who didn’t fancy the idea of getting sheared or a cow that didn’t want to go down the race to get its injections. A boom echoed round the lifeless room as the ancient steel door came to life on its rusty wheels. The winter sun had long since departed and the room was flooded with white halogen light. Three silhouettes emerged from the blazing artificial glow and he knew in his heart his time had come.
    He hunkered down as best he could with his hands tied, keeping his eyes closed. He would not give the bastards the satisfaction watching his terrified expression as he waited.
    But with the intensity of the light he could still make out shapes and couldn’t resist looking again at the three awkward forms. The one in the middle, smaller than the other two seemed disjointed somehow, struggling almost. They came only so far before one of outer pair struck the middle one, knocking him to the ground. They then began their advance once more, dragging the dizzied reluctant member of their group to somewhere behind Andy. It was then he heard the familiar sound of tightening cable ties and realised, with a guilty sense of relief that he now had company.
* * *
    The squad car arrived ten minutes after the slicing of Burke’s hand and the subsequent admirably professional restraint of his assailant by Jones, who hadn’t used nearly as much unnecessary force as he would have liked. But then she hadn’t been stabbed in the hand, a factor that would have made all the difference.
    There had been no blood for what seemed like a few seconds, though in reality it was unlikely to have been that long. He’d stared at the gaping white wound before being roused from his state of confusion by the distinctly red blood that began to flow rapidly, trickling down the palm of his hand and up the sleeve of his shirt as he held it aloft trying to unbutton the cuff. Multitasking had never been his forte.
    Jones couldn’t help him, so he staggered through to the kitchen and began rummaging through drawers for a tea towel of some sort. A more sensible man might have gone looking for the kitchen roll but that was not his strong point either. More sensible still, a woman might have gone for the bathroom but he’d lost the energy, almost feeling it drain out of him. He hadn’t lost that much blood but realised there was maybe an element of shock in play. Eventually he found a bunch of clean towels in an airing cupboard and slumped against the worktop as he wrapped one around his hand and watched it change colour. This wasn’t his favourite jacket. That was something. In fact he was pretty sure Rachel would be glad to see the back of it though he was fairly certain she wouldn’t be happy about the stitches he was going to have to get.
    He stood up and made his way through to the hallway and its collection of stuffed animals. A stag looked down on him, seemingly innocuous, giving away nothing of its true purpose in the two cameras it concealed, one infrared and one bog standard colour, allowing a view of both the surface of a person and what lay underneath. No secrets in this house, other than the ones kept by its owner.
    They arrested the intruder. Assault on a police officer was enough, never mind whatever he might be doing in the house of a murder victim. He had no ID and when asked his name, replied “your mother.” They sent him on his way back to the station for arrangement of a duty solicitor and all the other boxes that had to be ticked before they could begin the grilling process.
    “Are you ready for this?” Burke asked her when they were alone together in the hallway.
    “Of course,” she answered, shrugging her shoulders. “I’m not sure what you are getting so excited about.”
    “That’s because you don’t watch enough Bond films.”
    “I don’t watch any Bond films.”
    “Exactly.” He reached out to the bear’s head that now resided on a wall plaque and turned it forcefully so that it now leaned to the left at a jaunty angle. From inside the wood panelled wall there was a clunk and as he reached across part of the wall gave way with the slightest push, opening onto a dimly lit staircase.
    “Really?” He asked, raising both eyebrows, “Secret passageways don’t in the least bit interest you?”
    “It interests me from the point of view that it may or may not lead to this case being solved of course, but no, otherwise, in the outside world it’s just a door that opens slightly differently.”
    “Then you have no soul,” Burke replied, as he began cautiously down the steps.
    The light was faint, like security lighting almost and he had to be careful not to trip on what looked like very old steps. They weren’t old in the way the steps in his tenement close were, those were more of a normal shape and it was the faded mid-section that gave them away, countless footsteps having eroded them over time. These hidden stairs were older but relatively unused. The depth of them and the type of stone seemed to suggest they predated the house. In a town this old anything was possible.
    “Careful. There might be more stabby teenagers down there,” Jones told him with more than a vague hint of wishful thinking.
    “I’ll send them your way if there are,” he replied, “As you were kind enough to do last time.”
    “I tried to stop him,” she protested. “Made an attempt at a rugby tackle.”
    “I noticed that. Where did you learn to play rugby? At a netball lesson?”
    “Queen Margaret Uni actually. Had quite a good women’s rugby team. I was quite a handy wing forward.”
    “You don’t look big enough to be a flanker.”
    “Not anymore,” she replied with a sense of triumph.
    “Did you forget that for a second when you tried to take down your mother, or was it my mother?”
    “I may have done,” she admitted.
    The stair ran along the wall before turning sharply to the right. Brick merged with stone in a mish-mash that displayed a good couple of centuries of architectural reorganisation. The corner didn’t go far and the emerged at a heavy wooden door that looked like it belonged to a church rather than one of Bruntsfields Victorian Villas.
    He keyed a code into the pad in front of him, 9-10-49, Karpov’s birthday. As the lock clicked releasing the door he kicked it open, standing back ready for any possible onslaught. A vast room emerged before them. There was a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, massive couches and what looked like a home cinema at the other end.
    They walked through the room taking in the scene. The place was still lit up like a cathedral. Champagne flutes lay discarded with traces of white powder on a large glass coffee table, a bar was littered with snacks and at one end a home cinema still seemed to be showing the main feature.
    “We’ll get DNA swabs from those glasses and maybe something off the food.” Burke said, as he turned to see the biggest plasma screen he’d ever seen, still on and still showing the image of the hallway, just as Douglas had said. “Most important thing is finding out what that thing connects to. Otherwise, glove up and make sure that you don’t touch too much. I’m thinking the SOC team need to see this pretty quick.”
* * *


    Davie had begun a solid campaign of phoning after the second day. Nothing was happening. Andy could be huffy, sure, everyone knew that. He liked to hold the odd grudge, like over the time they’d hidden that old shed of a car he ran around in behind the silage pit and he hadn’t looked there because it was impossible to actually drive into the concrete hole. He hadn’t thought of what they’d actually done, which was to lift it over on the end of the loader. Ok, so they might have damaged it slightly, running it through with the forks, but it hadn’t lifted the first time when they’d tried to slip them under. A few holes gave it character anyway.
    Andy didn’t get that though, something to do with taking Emma out for the first time that night, so even when they fessed up he hadn’t spoken to him or Colin for three days. Come to think of it, the Micra had smelt of silage for a while after that.
    It didn’t look like he was in a cream puff this time though. Davie called in to see him three times in the course of the day but not a sign. He’d eventually run into old Jimmy, the part time worker that lived at the end of the farm road. Jimmy was a pretty laid back character, like the types his father liked to describe when he was three sheets to the wind and got all emotional about the fact there weren’t any characters around anymore. All the old crocs got like that, thinking the world was going to hell in a hand basket in the way the generation before and the generation before that probably had too.
    Jimmy shook his head regarding the inside of his flat cap as though it were the font of all knowledge, which it maybe was. “I’ve no seen hide nor hair of him son. There’s no been any sign of the lights anyway. The sister’s back at vet school and faither’s away his holidays.”
    “Aye, ah ken that,” Davie replied, feeling a pang of what he was worried might be guilt, an emotion he found inconvenient at the best of times.
    “Well, he’ll no be happy if he gets back and the young yin hasnae pulled his weight.”
    Davie nodded his agreement as he placed a foot up on the gate and lit a fag. The pair of them stared off into the frozen stock yard.
    “What you been up to?” Jimmy asked, knowing full well that all was not as it seemed.
    “Nothing too bad.”
    “Yir an awfa boy tae be yin boy,” the old man said, shaking his head as though he had seen it all before and doubtless would again.
    They stood for a while longer, contemplating nothing very much before Davie made his excuses, got back in the Peugeot and headed back to the ranch.
    He could only think of one other possibility and that was one he didn’t want to acknowledge just yet. He had to clear out his head in the time honoured fashion before he could do that.
    After a couple of Stellas and half a packet of Benson and Hedges he got the bit between his teeth and dialled the number. She seemed brighter than the last time they’d spoken, but that was only until she heard his name. The cloud had quickly spread over the conversation at that point. Her hackles were well and truly up after those two syllables.
    He’d never totally gotten on with Andy’s girlfriend, and that was before they’d split up. Now he was most definitely persona non grata, the devil incarnate. No, she hadn’t seen him and wouldn’t, if she happened to have the misfortune to lay eyes on the philandering bastard, approach him for fear of what she might actually do. He didn’t like to ask what she might do but imagined it probably involved sharp objects and his friend’s eyes or worse. He didn’t want to picture worse, so he thanked her for her time, which going on the snorting sound she made, was likely taken as sarcasm, and said goodbye. He wasn’t sure why but she seemed to blame him somehow. He’d been blamed by a few ex-girlfriends in his time, but then that was what guys did, blamed any kind of wild irrational or inexcusable behaviour they could on a best mate. Better to be innocent and led astray than an actual bastard.
    This all seemed to be leading down one road. If it was even possible.
* * *
    Burke called by the flat on the way back to the station. He had a fair idea Rachel might have something to stem the flow of the bleeding, which stubbornly refused to let up.
    “Oh I have,” she said with a knowing look. “Some advice. Go to A and E.”
    “I haven’t got time,” he pleaded.
    “No,” was all she said, before digging out a collection of cotton wool, sticking plasters and a bottle of Dettol.
    He gritted his teeth as she applied an antiseptic soaked pad to the gaping wound on his hand and the pain shot up to his elbow. By rights, he felt it ought to have cauterised the wound, given the searing nature of the sting. No matter. It would offer some kind of protection for the time being.
    He turned to thank her and noticed the bags piled high in the bedroom door.
    “It’s what you wanted isn’t it?” she asked.
    “Yes,” he replied, knowing that it was the only answer. “It’s not…”
    “No, I know,” she said. It never is. “You’ve got to do what needs to be done.”
    “I’ve seen the letters James.”
    “Did you think they’d only sent one? Oh no. There have been a few now,” she said, smiling coldly.
    “Do you need a lift to the station?” he asked, searching for something, anything to say.
    “There’s a taxi on the way,” she said, folding her arms tight across the top of her substantial bump, as though bracing against a cold wind. “We’ll talk later.”
    He made his way back to the car where Jones was waiting, arguing with someone on the phone by the looks of it. Was this a common theme in their line?
    “Other half?” he asked, reading her pensive expression.
    “For now,” came the response.
    He dumped a bag at her feet. “There’s food in there if you’re desperate,” he said feeling guilty that he should allow anyone else to eat the pasta his wife had made for him only a couple of days before, when everything had seemed so much more normal.
    Jones must have got the hint as she seemed to steer around his dinner, settling instead on another package in the bag. “What’s this?” she asked, pulling out a rolled up newspaper. It was bound in brown paper and hand addressed with the requisite amount of stamps on the other side.
    “Local rag from back home. My gran sends it to me once a week, thinks it keeps me grounded up here in the big smoke.”
    “It’s good to stay grounded I suppose.”
    On arrival at the station it turned out “Your Mother” had secured legal representation in the jelly like form of Dougie Jamieson, the duty solicitor who was on call to the criminals of the parish at the most inconvenient of hours. Burke often wondered what Jamieson had done to deserve such a fate, something sinister? Or perhaps some kind of faux pas at a law society dinner that now saw him reduced to the rank of social leper for the rest of his days. Or maybe it was just the fact that he was a fat tub of lard with chronic BO, a suit that was so cheap it crackled with static when he walked and all the social skills of a sewer rat.
    His attacker was technically called Stuart McColm, according to his birth certificate and ID. Although there being no law of deed poll in Scotland he could be addressed as whatever he liked.
    Interview room two was cold and Burke thought it was best to leave the lardy lawyer and the teenage cat burglar to relax and acclimatise to the conditions for a while. The cold would doubtless make them both that bit more jumpy, though Jamieson was considerably better insulated than the sylph like McColm. Having checked his record, the kid had form; a caution for possession of cannabis and a fine for breach of the peace a year before. Nothing serious on the surface but reading a bit further he discovered the breach of the peace was related to his occupation of the time, that of rent boy and suspected drug pusher.
    Burke cut straight to the chase. “Who was with you?” he demanded, only to be rebuffed with an uncooperative response. No one liked a grass, especially those of a more professional criminal persuasion. “I suppose they had the laptop,” he continued.
    “I don’t know fuck all about the laptop,” the boy answered wrinkling his brow and folding his arms, succeeding only in looking more teenage.
    “But there was a laptop. You don’t deny that,”
    “No, well maybe, so what. I’m telling you nothing piggy.”
    “There’s no need to be like that,” Jones cut in as Burke tried his best to look offended. “You sliced Inspector Burke’s hand open. It’s doubtful he’ll ever be able to knit again.”
    McColm looked confused for a second and then let out a snigger.
    “He’s been pretty understanding about this all Stuart. It isn’t like we want much in return.”
    Stuart looked at his fingernails which were in need of a good clean, before shifting his gaze to Jones who gave him her best I’m a reasonable woman look back. “What’s gonna happen to me?” he asked in a voice that had a pitch to match his whingey demeanour.
    His ginger hair dyed blonde and his tango tan did nothing to detract from the effect. It was no wonder he’d felt the need to wear a mask. He might have glowed in the dark otherwise. Burke got the sense he hadn’t been forgiven for the blow to the side of the head. He was an authority figure, one in a long line this kid had undoubtedly come up against in his nineteen years, starting with the drunken waster father who had beaten him and his mother black and blue on a regular basis before buggering off and leaving them to fend for themselves in Sighthill. Sure, there were decent members of society everywhere but there were forgotten people out there too, people that didn’t play by the same rules as the general population, and it was hard to know right from wrong when you’d been beaten regardless of what you did from a young age.
    Jones had a way of softening up witnesses. He had to hand it to her. She worked them like some kind of prize fighter, softening them up with a few body blows before continuing with the full on cranial assault just to finish the job. Timing was everything. She had him talking now, about how he’d left home at a young age, wasn’t much worse than the flat in Sighthill anyway freedom to be who you really were, that was the thing.
    “It isn’t you we’re after, is it? That’s what you’ve got to remember,” she said.
    He nodded his head.
    “I mean you didn’t kill Oleg Karpov did you?”
    He shook his head.
    “For the benefit of the tape please Stuart.”
    The boy grunted in the negative, before looking like he was going to cry.
    “You were there though. And my guess is, you know who did.”
    His head dropped onto the table and he cradled it in his arms, letting out a sigh that seemed to go on for longer than lung capacity should have allowed. “I was there,” he said, an air of desperation in his voice, “but I really don’t know who did it.”
    “What did you see?”
    “Everything, but nothing that can help,” he said rubbing his hair nervously before covering his face with his elbows. “They were wearing masks.”
    “Like the kind of masks you were wearing tonight?”
    “Yes. No. It wasn’t us, I swear.” He looked pleadingly into her eyes.
    “Who is us Stuart?”
    “Me and a friend. It’s not important. He knows nothing I don’t.”
    “Why don’t you tell us and we can interview him? Then at least we can find out for ourselves. It’s important we find out what happened.” She paused for a second. “Why did you go back for the laptop?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “But your friend did? Does that tell us something about how much more he knew than you? Or maybe you thought the CCTV footage on a laptop shows more than you can have out there in the big wide world. Maybe there’s something there to incriminate you.”
    “No!” he shouted. “Neither of us knows more than the other did. We were in this together. We just wanted the laptop.”
    “Why?” she demanded.
    “I don’t even know right. That’s the thing. He didn’t say. We just knew he was working for the Russian.”
    “The Russian?” Both the detectives’ ears pricked up at this.
    Burke who had begun to daydream a little along with the soundtrack was now fully focussed on the ginger youth. “What Russian Stuart?”
    “I don’t know that. I just know the lawyer said it would be bad for us if we didn’t get it.”
    “What lawyer?” Jones asked, watching Jamieson who had been on the verge of sleeping come back to life.
    “Posh wanker, expensive suit, called himself John Smith or Joe Bloggs or something stupid like that.”
* * *
    Giles was not a man accustomed to being taken or indeed held hostage. Was that what he was? They’d knocked him around a bit. He’d complained, told them to watch the suit, given them as good as he got, verbally if not physically. The smack on the side of the head had put a stop to that. Fucking barbarians, they should be in a salt mine somewhere east of the back end of snow covered fucking nowhere, or better still in a shallow grave, anywhere.
    He was also quite unaccustomed to losing control of his bowels, not that it seemed to matter now that he was in a distinctly agricultural looking building. Was this how long it took to reduce everyone to their lowest ebb? Were they all animals not so very deep down after all? This must be what the inevitable decline was like, sitting in the dark with shitty trousers and the urge to cry, full circle right back to where you started.
    Oh how the mighty had fallen. Now all he was concerned with was basic survival, never mind which Rolex to wear to which event or which tie to wear on any given day. Social niceties were out the window. Could he bargain his way out of this one, grovel maybe? He doubted his client would care much for that. He seemed a man of principle, fucked up and misguided principle, but principle nonetheless. His moral compass was pointing south or something.
    What did it matter? He would try anything. He should be angry. Who the hell had the right to put him in a position like this anyway?
    The kid was there he was sure, behind him in the dark somewhere. Now the boot was on the other foot. He didn’t feel guilty. You paid your money, you took your chance. That was what his father always said. You couldn’t be expected to look out for everyone else. It was a jungle out there, more so than he’d ever imagined after all.
    There must be a way out of this was the thought that kept bouncing round his head like some desperate mantra he couldn’t or wouldn’t shift. It was a survival instinct but also one born of habit. He’d never been in this situation, never felt close to the end and so he wasn’t equipped to deal with it. His brain could not recognise or process it.
    He talked himself up. He could do this. He could hustle his way out, like he’d seen his father do all his life. Though he’d denied it many times, he was sure the apple never fell that far from the tree. He must have it in him.
    The kid behind him snuffled, presumably snoring in some way. Just as well considering what was in store for him. He heard the footsteps outside, felt the grumbling roar of the great steel door.
    The client stood amongst his mercenaries. His face was empty. The bolt cutters in his left hand said more than any facial expression, body language or words ever could. Giles felt his confidence drain. He was no longer a hustler, probably never was. He knew that now.
* * *
    They were assembled at the rugby ground as usual, for the twice weekly training version of kicking the shit out of each other.
    Davie hadn’t been there in months. He was usually in some kind of pride related dilemma he realised. It did seem to be his Achilles heel. He watched from a distance at first, not that that made him seem any less stupid. The car park was up on the hill above the pitch and could be seen by anyone with functioning eyes and it wasn’t like he could be here for any other reason than wanting to talk to his former team mates.
    He waited some more though, inspecting his feet, like he was a kid again and his parents had ordered him to apologise to someone for some perceived misdemeanour, which seemed to happen a lot.
    Eventually he realised the training session was finishing up and made his approach. Graeme and big Al were the first ones to spot him.
    “Training must be over lads. There’s the fat lady and I think she’s about to sing,” Graeme shouted.
    “I know for a fact you’ve woken up with worse,” Davie replied.
    “He has that,” Al agreed. “What brings you here anyway?”
    “Oh nothing much. Just wondered if anyone fancied a beer.”
    “Sounds good to me,” Al replied, some of the others nodding their approval along with him. “I take it you’re buying?”
    They headed into Wigtown and made for the Grapes, thinking the pool table might be quiet. He got in the first round in order to buy some good will and waited until they were on drink number four to get down to business.
    “You got something on your mind?” Al asked, as he tried to figure out the best way to broach the subject and gave himself away.
    “Kind of, aye,” he replied. “Does your dad still do those stag parties?”
* * *
    Campbell appeared in the car park, after Jones had finished her fag and headed inside, leaving Burke to stand in the icy December air, trying to inhale as much as possible in a crude token attempt to cool down his cardiovascular system.
    “Better watch that one boss, she’ll have your job next,” he said, seemingly watching Jones walk away.
    “Really?” was all Burke could bring himself to say in response.
    “Oh yeah. Ambitious one that one,” he confirmed.
    “I’m wondering at what point that became a bad thing,” Burke replied, “Or is that just something you reserve for female officers?”
    “You ok boss?”
    “Oh I’m grand. Are you ok?”
    “Not too bad. Could always be better, but that’s just the way it goes.”
    “Is it?” Burke asked, fixing the Detective Sergeant with glare.
    “Ehm, yeah,” Campbell said, looking a little unsure of himself.
    “So what have you got to say then?”
    “Well you’ve always got something to say for yourself haven’t you?”
    “Out with it then?”
    “Well, I was just going to say that a source of mine mentioned something about the drug scene at the moment and a certain level of fear regarding the possibility of losing their head, shall we say.”
    “Source.” Burke began laughing. “Source.”
    Campbell smiled. “Wasn’t really sure if it was worth mentioning or not to be honest.
    “And by source I take it to mean dealer, I imagine.”
    “We have sources all over sir. You know that.”
    “Yes but we don’t buy their products do we. That’s the thing. Because it doesn’t really make us any good at our jobs or anything else for that matter does it. In fact it tends to mess up our lives doesn’t it?”
    Campbell shrugged. “You should probably think about the scene you’re in danger of causing right now,” he said, with a wink.
    Burke shot forward, shoving his chest and slamming him into the wall, then followed through with an uppercut just below the rib cage. He pinned him by the throat with his right forearm as his body went limp at the knees. “You should think more about the consequences of your actions.”
    Campbell laughed. “Says you.”
    Burke tightened his grip. “I’ll kill you.”
    Campbell gave him a knowing look. “That seems unlikely.”
    Burke punched him again with his free hand, before releasing his grip. He moved away, starting to turn but saw the smirking face and couldn’t resist another blow, side on this time, directly at Campbell’s jaw, and another and another, until everything became a blur.
    When he became aware of his surroundings Campbell was gone.


    McKay stood shivering outside the house in Morningside. Its manicured privet hedges twinkled with fairy lights, which along with its Victorian sandstone grandeur made it look like something off a Christmas card. A very expensive Christmas card at that. Nothing came cheap in this part of the city. If you were lucky you’d bought in the 80s when the Capital was still known for being the heroin capital of Europe and clung on for the property boom. If you weren’t you could just about forget it.
    The judge was unlikely to have been happy at being woken at such an hour. If that was the case it didn’t show though. He seemed a fairly jovial character in his dressing gown. His white hair stood up off the sides of his otherwise bald head and his colour suggested an eventful night may have been had elsewhere earlier this evening. They’d been told he could be found at the Whisky Society if not at home.
    It was all very cloak and dagger. The documents were signed and witnessed before being placed in sealed documents ready for receipt by the DI. He wished he’d had a cheeky swatch at them before they’d been sealed, but it was too late now and no point knowing anything if you felt someone might try to winkle it out of you. They were gossip hounds round the station, particularly CID.
    The judge had bid him good evening, despite the fact it was well beyond that, maybe tipsy, maybe this was exciting to him. It couldn’t be a regular occurrence, getting dragged out of bed by the cops.
    It had all happened at once, as tended to be the way of things; spend days doing heehaw, going through evidence, going through the motions, waiting for something to happen and then the boss recoils in his chair while reading the paper, like he’s spilled his coffee in his lap and it all kicks off.
    Strange enough when he was wandering round talking to himself all the time. A lot of people in CID thought he’d still to get over that shooting business the year before, but that was just how things went. Bloody tragedy that. Losing those two.
    Burke had immediately shot off rabbiting into his phone about something, before returning to his own office and pacing around again. Muttering to himself.
    The next thing McKay knew he was being despatched to the judge’s house with the documents.
    By the time he returned, that Edwards eejit was assembling his troops and they looked like they were tooling up for something big.
* * *
    Victor knew things were getting complicated. Things were not to his liking at this end of the operation. There were too many unresolved problems. The kid was a waste management issue, nothing else for it. He’d been stupid, crossed the wrong people. How could he be allowed to go now? How could it be ensured that he wouldn’t say anything? There was no way and as much as he hated to end a life needlessly before its time he had to look after number one and of course numbers two and three in the forms of Boris and Sacha.
    Family was all. There was no debate there. The kid should not have been so stupid. They all were nowadays. Still, he should not be expected to pay for their sins. He only had control over his world and he must do everything to retain that control.
    Alexei held the blowtorch in one hand, his face glowing like some kind of demonic gargoyle. He should really see a dentist if he survived long enough, which, given his recent behaviour, seemed increasingly unlikely. In his other hand he held the bolt cutters, which glowed almost white at the end of their jaws. Occasional sparks drifted off into the air as Alexei’s fascinated eyes followed them.
    He took too much pleasure in this to maintain any professional detachment. Victor could see that now. He took no such pleasure. Indeed it was as though he was not there. He could ignore the screams and the pleading, let it wash over him. He was nothing more than an observer in someone else’s nightmare, watching a man who looked like himself but registered no emotion, took no pain or pleasure and recognised this was just his lot. It was a job that had to be done in order to ensure the successful running of an operation.
    He heard his voice address the lawyer with a kind of cold feigned empathy. “Fire.” He motioned towards Alexei and his burner. “It purifies, sanitises, cauterises.”
    The lawyer pleaded with his eyes, struggling almost involuntarily. He couldn’t make out the moans of desperation from behind the gag but he could see the anxious contortions of the face.
    “The jaws of this implement will cut through fingers as if they are not there, which of course they then won’t be.” He laughed at this, couldn’t help it. It had been a long day
    The lawyer’s face ran with tears now as he contemplated this, undoubtedly wondering in what way he had failed his client in order to deserve such a fate.
    “This is not a respectable way to behave, Mr Heriot-Watt,” he taunted. “Is this how your father brought you up to be a man? To cry like a little girl?”
    The hired hands laughed and he hated them for it. Sycophantic nothings. How could men be so physically strong and yet so without backbone? “Did you think you had some kind of job for life? I suppose you did.” He laughed again. “But there’s no pension scheme in our business. This is not something you can do on a consultancy basis. We do not follow laws. We have our own. This has to be a clean operation. There can be no mess. Not when it’s all so dirty.” Again the sycophantic laughter. “Do you know where you are?”
    The lawyer didn’t know how to respond so he just went back to the standard pleading.
    “Physically?” Victor demanded. “Surely you know that? Do you know what this is? This is an empire. This is storage, logistics, production even, for everything I’m building. You don’t even know do you? This is the place where they regularly store white powder in bulk and truck the stuff all around the country. You think this is lime? This is Columbia’s finest cocaine. This place is its own airport, truck depot and even, God love your predecessor, money laundering operation. No one knows what’s going in and out of here and how much it costs. No one knows we have an oil tanker with an extra compartment for those girls you’re so fond of. Do you know we’re thirty miles from a port to Ireland, one where they’ve taken off the police presence because…” He paused and looked round at the others. “Well I don’t even know why. Do you know how they used to smuggle chemicals across that border? Do you? People would buy two newspapers, cut the pictures from one and paste them over the shots in the other just so they could squeeze a layer of heroin in between. Now I could drive a car through there and no one would notice and if we avoid the main routes when the pressure’s on and fly everything out of this place so be it. And if not, we have that boat you helped to launch the other day. Any sign of trouble at one end, we simply ditch the product in the sea and fish it out again like the most expensive catch you can imagine. So thank you. Thank you for your complicity and the fact that you knew what you were doing was wrong by your own bourgeois standards but didn’t care in any way.
    Thank you for the publicity. The key to this was always to hide in plain sight.
* * *
    Everything had swung into action beautifully. Edwards had materialised a task force from somewhere, like he’d been waiting for something like this to happen. He’d said as much of course though he probably never knew what it would be in any detail.
    The choppers flew in low, coming out over the west coast and the North Channel, doubled back and crossed the Rhins, Luce Bay and rounded the Machars, South West Scotland’s hammer like bottom end peninsulas, into an icy dawn. Edwards sat up front wearing a pair of Oakleys that could really only be described as ridiculous but that Burke was fairly certain he’d selected specifically to go with Kevlar body armour and the cans on his ears. He was loving this.
    It had been Burke’s granny that sealed the deal, sending out the local rag religiously, week in week out since he’d left home. He’d needed something to calm him down after the Campbell incident, some degree of grounding. Normally it was the court file that made interesting reading, trying to see if he recognised anyone from school that had been done for breach of the peace or bestiality after a night on the sauce. In an area where everyone knew everyone, the chances were you’d always know someone. Sometimes the headlines were laughable, like the time three sheep were nearly killed after escaping onto the A75 and it made the front page.
    This time of course it had been the smirking face of Giles Heriot-Watt staring back at him, his gerbil like champagne quaffing mug a testament to the fact he’d just launched a speed boat, a speed boat that was about to be impounded.
    Funny how granny always had a habit of pointing people in the right direction.
    Wig Bay was to the right of them as they came in from the south avoiding the Galloway hills. Home, or what had been home lay three miles to the west, though no lights blinked there now and hadn’t done for some fifteen years. The memory faded but the twinge in the pit of the stomach remained just as strong. The achingly familiar landscape lay before them, spread out like an ink blue blanket with occasional sparkling lights indicating signs of life. Not long now.


    Andy could hear the Russian speaking. In his head he pictured Borat, or a meaner version prancing around like the guy from Reservoir Dogs. Not that he spoke like Borat. Andy was probably just mildly racist or xenophobic he realised. Fair enough under the circumstances.
    The prick behind him, it was the same stuffy little fucker who’d been there earlier. The one in the suit and the aura of self-importance. Not so grand now. He could hear the muffled grunts and the sound of the burner further away. If ever he was going to have a heart attack this was probably a good time. A quick painful death by his own hand or heart sounded good. He’d heard about Buddhist monks who when their time had come were able to just let go, push the red emergency button, pull the ejector cord, just fuck off and give the bastards the two fingered salute.
    He tried holding his breath. Everything went silent. The burner was extinguished. He could hear the sounds of his heartbeat and the sobs of the suit behind him.
    “It takes dedication to live this way. I wouldn’t expect you to understand a thing like that Giles.”
    Giles, that was the snivelling posh twat’s name. The Russian or Estonian or whatever he was had a liking for the sound of his own voice, although the fact you could hear it from a distance was comforting. He hoped he could keep that distance.
    “I wouldn’t expect you to understand it all, but allow me to educate you in some way.” The sound he heard then was familiar in some way and yet beyond that. A sickening crunch and at the same time a squelching sound like a dog chewing on a chicken bone. Then the scream came, a sound that would curdle the blood and twist the guts of anyone with senses. Then the burning smell. It hit is nostrils and was again familiar, the unmistakable reek of burning flesh like barbecuing pork or worse, further back in his memory, the pyres that came with foot and mouth. But this was more intense. This you couldn’t rationalise. This had only one conclusion, that he was next.
* * *
    Giles lay on the barn floor where he had fallen when they had cut the cable ties. Everything was numb. Andreyevich’s lecture about the ways of his people had gone over fairly convincingly. Safe to say it had left its mark on his mind.
    The toothless henchman lay on the ground. Smoke poured from a gaping and yet cauterised wound where his windpipe had once been. A warning shot to him and the others on the payroll. Don’t screw up or it’ll be the end of you. He picked himself up from the cold concrete floor and staggered towards the light at the doorway but stopped short when he saw Victor standing there waiting, a glint in his eye.
    “You should change your trousers.”
    “Yes, immediately. Obviously,” he stammered trying to get control over the nervousness in his voice.
    “But first you must take care of some business. Think of it as some kind of contract perhaps. An act of faith and mutual trust you might say.”
    “Anything,” he replied, at the same time not quite meaning it.
    Victor motioned towards the slumped figure of the boy cable tied to the pallet in the far corner. “You know what must be done. There can be no loose ends. All or nothing, and nothing is easily done,” he said motioning to the corpse on the floor.
    One of the other hired hands stepped forward passing him an assault rifle.
    “No!” Victor butted it away. “This is a mark of respect. We only execute those deserving with this.”
    The guard lowered the AK47 nodding.
    “Go and find something more appropriate. Something you might normally shoot a pig with.”
    The man shuffled away and left Giles to think about this. It wasn’t something he’d done before. It wasn’t something he thought he’d ever have to do. But was it something he was prepared to do? Were there any other options? He could run, but no, they’d find him. This was the only way. The boy would never live anyway. The guard returned with a shot gun, conveniently sawn off half way down the barrel. He recognised this though, felt vaguely comfortable with it from pheasant shoots years before.
    The guard clicked it open, finding two dusty looking cartridges. “You know how to use?” He asked, handing it over.
    “Of course,” Giles replied. There was always some feeling of security to be had putting someone down. The shot gun was the weapon of choice for his kind of people, not like the AK used by despots and terrorists the world over.
    He snapped the gun shut, lock, stock and what was left of the shortened barrels in unison, feeling lighter in his hands than he was used to, less heavy at the business end obviously but nevertheless, substantial.
    He closed the giant door. He didn’t want an audience for what he was about to do. He walked purposefully towards the kid. He had to get this over with. That was all. Then on with the rest of his life, no more screw ups.
    The boy seemed asleep. Maybe that was the saving grace in all of this. Maybe. He weighed up the gun again. This was a side by side, the barrel set on the horizontal. He’d used an over and under last time. It was unlikely he would miss at point blank range. No need to think about the adjustments to be made for that. He wasn’t a long range sniper trying to take the head off a diplomat at two miles. He was shooting a sleeping fish in a barrel.
    There would be a recoil of course. Would it be more or less than a normal one? Would be get powder burns from the shortness of the barrel? It was going to be loud. That much he knew.
    He took one last breath, looked over the gun again, lifted it decisively to his shoulder, then back to his waist when he wondered if that might be better.
    And then the boy looked up and Giles’s heart skipped a beat.
* * *
    Andy had heard the weasel coming. The footsteps of his short arsed gait were unmistakably close together. He had considered that he might not have the bottle, but looking into his eyes now he knew that wasn’t the case. This guy hadn’t got by on looks and charm. He must have some kind of nasty streak about him.
    He looked shifty, moving the gun up and down his body, unsure whether to shoot from the hip or the shoulder. His face betrayed the shock when Andy raised his head, unprepared for there being an audience. He’d more happily have shot him in the back, should have thought of that really. The suit’s expression turned to one of righteous indignation. His jaw shot out, making him look as though he only had two chins and Andy felt the anger rising. The man moved the gun up to his shoulder again thrusting the end of the barrel into Andy’s face but stepping back slightly as his body language gave away his reluctance.
    “You can’t shoot me,” Andy said, shaking his head in as dismissive a way as he could manage.
    The man scoffed but seemed to twitch slightly. “And why would you think that?” he asked defiantly.
    “Some things we just know round here,” Andy replied with a smirk. “It’s in the blood you might say.”
    “The only thing that’s about to be in your blood is a lot of lead.”
    “That so? You’re confident then?”
    “Oh I am. You can pull all your mind tricks, try to guilt me about the fact that you’re just a boy and I’m, what? A big bad criminal?” He laughed a bit too hard.
    “Bad criminal maybe,” Andy said, eliciting a frown and a further steely gaze from his executioner.
    “We’ll see,” he said, as he took aim again. “Any last requests?”
    “None. You?”
    “I have to hand it to you, you do rather know how to talk a good game, but this isn’t like talking me out of beating you in a golf match. I’m not bottling it sunshine. This isn’t one you can win.”
    “You still can’t shoot me,” Andy replied, starting to laugh.
    “I’m glad you think that,” Giles said. “It makes this much easier.”
    And then he pulled the trigger.
* * *
    The tank made short work of the front gate. “Security schmuecurity,” Big Al said, as he ploughed through the thing at about thirty miles an hour. He miss-judged it slightly. It launched into the air and they clung on for dear life as it lurched back towards the ground and landed with an almighty clatter.
    The diesel engine roared once more, belching noxious fumes into the atmosphere as the powered towards the main building. “Full steam ahead,” Davie yelled sitting on top of the monster, feeling every inch the general as they pulled off the ultimate ram raid. He stoked up a B&H and reflected that you should never really fuck with someone who has access to a tank driving school. The decommissioned Russian hulk was followed by a Toyota Hilux under whose canopy was concealed eight angry men with baseball bats, iron bars and whatever else they’d got their hands on. Game on.
* * *
    “What the fuck?” Edwards blared into the microphone making everyone else’s ears sing. “What’s this?”
    He’d choreographed this with the guys on the ground. They were doing one last circle before preparing to move in and now it looked like all hell was about to break loose.
    “Go! Move in now,” he screamed. “They’ve got a… a tank.”
    Below they could see the tank move in and the bodies on the ground scrambling like ants.
    “Looks like a rival gang.” Edwards squawked to his crew on the ground. “Proceed with extreme caution. It looks like they’re armed.” He turned to the pilot. “Can you set this thing down?”
    The nose of the chopper dipped accordingly then rose up again as the ground got closer. They moved along the runway sideways and came to a halt near the abandoned control tower, followed by the second air unit which then broke away and circled round the other side, towards the shore. As they descended, they could see both prongs of the police attack coming in from either side of the complex in a blue flashing pincer movement.
* * *
    Giles heard the crash outside just after he pulled the trigger. It threw him. It wasn’t the sound he’d expected to hear and it didn’t come from the right place. It took his brain half a second to catch up.
    He’d forgotten the safety catch. That was the advice he’d ignored when the gun was handed over. No matter. He fumbled with it, watching the grin spread across the kid’s face and once ready, took aim again, allowing himself a grin of his own.
    He could hear the commotion outside now but in here it was quiet. In here it was just the two of them. All he wanted to do was finish this, blow that smile away.
    He took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger once more, willing the gun to go off, to blast lead through skin muscle bone and brain. Nothing.
    The boy looked relieved for the briefest moment before smiling again and letting out the most primitive animalistic sound Giles had ever heard, pitching forward and hurling himself, into a somersault that shifted all the wooden pallets attached to his back into the air.
* * *
    Andy lay on the floor face down, listening to the noise outside. He had undoubtedly broken one of his arms, and painful though it was, he was glad to be able to feel something. He knew what he had to do now and prepared himself. Taking a deep breath, he launched himself forward, with everything he had left, untwisting his arms with an agonising surge of pain he would never know again and landed on his back. As he drifted into what was probably shock, an immobilised Giles Heriot-Watt beneath him, he thanked whatever bank robber had taken such fastidious care of their sawn off shot gun, even making sure they stored it with dummy cartridges to protect the firing pins.
* * *
    Davie was not feeling so confident now. They hadn’t known there would be guns, never mind full on hard core automatic ones. Now a hail of bullets raged around the tank. Someone got hit in the leg and the boys in the pick-up had beaten a retreat.
    Now they were stuck here in the middle of it and to cap it off the cops had arrived.
    He wasn’t sure but there was every possibility you could get done for being drunk in charge of a tank, not to mention vandalism.
    The shots were all coming from the main grain store and the office opposite. They could do something about that.
* * *
    Victor watched the tank move. He fired a salvo at the turret on the top. He knew the damage would be minimal but it would deafen whoever was in there and might make them think twice.
    The tank seemed to move about indecisively for a few seconds, like some kind of giant dithering beast, before it turned on its tracks and headed the other way towards the grain store. The police had moved in, surrounded the place. This was now a siege situation at best. The others were in there for now, all except the lawyer who should have finished off the kid.
    There was confusion in this situation. The red mist had descended. The tank headed towards the grain store with renewed vigour clearly meaning to take down the steel door. The others would be exposed, probably run. He had to take his chance now.
    The helicopter circled overhead. He told himself it would be focused on the main action.
    He ran out the back door of the office, across the courtyard to where there was a gap between two buildings in the corner. Squeezing through the gap he ran along the wall behind the buildings. The workmanship was inconsistent and he could see through holes in the breezeblocks. The police had used his airstrip as a giant car park surrounding the complex from there and round. He could hear the squawked messages, telling them they were surrounded. Give up. Never.
    They had his plane. He had no idea where the pilot was. A second helicopter sat at the far end of the runway, like an invitation. But how to get to it?
    He could hear the tank at the other end of the complex, crashing into the grain store.
    Why were the police waiting? Were they scared to come in until their tank had done the heavy work?
    Then he remembered. There was a chance, the lawyer was as weak willed as he imagined. The boy, if he were only still alive; he was almost certain he could be used as leverage.
    He doubled back, heading for the barn he’d left them in. He could feel the soft seat in the helicopter already. There was always a way.
* * *
    They sat hunkered behind vehicles on the airstrip. They had been given the nod to pull back out of the open five minutes ago but this had been retracted. The marksmen were moving in, gaining ground, unseen.
    One target had moved to the wall bordering the airstrip and then pulled back again, sneaking towards God knew where, blissfully unaware of the infrared eye in the sky, following his heat signatures every move.
    Another three targets were in the grain store, with a further number in the tank. Intelligence had it that these were locals. Every time he thought he’d seen it all he went home and it surprised him.
    A further two targets could be seen in an adjacent barn but they were losing heat fast and it wasn’t looking promising. Presumably these were the hostages the reports were coming in about after they’d intercepted the pick-up full of witnesses trying to make their escape.
    The order went out for the marksmen to advance and Burke could see them now in his mind’s eye, heading in. It would be the first and last time this military base saw any action.
* * *
    Davie and Al sat in the tank unsure of what to do now. There was nothing like biting off more than you could chew. The cops were involved. The pissed off workers with the guns were pinned in the grain store and all they could do was fire a few rounds at the tank. First of all it had scared the hell out of them, and then it made them laugh but now they were probably up shit creek with the police turning up. This could take some explaining.
    So they sat and waited, and then it dawned on them. Maybe no one knew this was a decommissioned tank. Maybe they had no idea that Al’s dad had bought it from a Russian scrap firm for buttons and rented it to stag dos for a small fortune. No. The boys must have been caught by the fuzz on the way out. They must have explained it surely.
    He needed a better view of the situation, couldn’t see behind so he rotated the turret to get some kind of look. As the dangerous end of it came round to point at the outside of the barn he caught some movement. A guy dragging something. It looked like a person. It looked like Andy. This guy was dragging his seriously damaged friend with him.
    He must have heard the squeal of the turrets motor and turned to see the gun facing him. The man stood for a second wondering what to do, totally oblivious to the fact he was looking down the barrel of a camouflaged painted broom handle. Then, as though unconcerned, he hoisted Andy onto his back and began limping away, confident his human shield was in place. He was headed for the airstrip.


    The marksmen entered the complex via the broken down front entrance, splitting into two groups and continuing down opposite sides of the main road slowly.
    They were directed by intel from above and knew to expect fire from the entrance of the main building on the far right. The tank in the doorway was not considered a threat, but the figure or figures moving away from it were.
    The tank reversed at speed from the entrance without warning, leaving the targets inside in an open position. The three officers on the left side covered the entrance, taking turns to advance further round. The three on the opposite side advanced along the wall in the same direction trying to get a line of fire on the moving targets which were currently obscured by the now slow moving tank.
* * *
    “He’s headed this way again,” Edwards announced to whoever would listen.
    They were now spread out more. Some officers provided a line of resistance along the perimeter of the airfield, unseen, while Edwards and his two minions, along with Burke and Jones, had taken shelter in the entrance to on old bomb shelter.
    “He’s going to make a run for it with the hostage,” Burke said, almost to himself.
    “Do you know where?” Edwards asked, pulling out a hastily downloaded map and aerial photos of the site.”
    “I can’t be sure. He might just be brave enough or mental enough to walk right past us.” Burke looked towards the complex, checked his body armour was secure and shook his head. “Fuck it. I’m going in.” He grabbed a radio before anyone could protest and began moving along the edge of the runway bordering the breeze block wall. Edwards pursued him without much consideration. He had expected some kind of resistance. This was his shooting match after all. Not that he had much control right now. It was starting to look like a house party that had been advertised on facebook and exploded.
    They reached the corner of the security wall and the bit he thought might be the hardest. As soon as his head went over the top he might be a goner. He was reminded of the final scene in Blackadder Goes Forth, where after months of trying to avoid it they have to go over the top. He hoped this would not be his final scene.
    He looked behind. Edwards was there. Egging him on, notably not volunteering to go first.
    He gritted his teeth, grabbed the top of the breezeblock wall with both hands and using all the force he had, pulled himself up and over the wall in one clean movement. He landed in a back alleyway formed by the rear of an old building and the new wall. He was wrong about the wall being the hardest bit. This was a dead end. Now they were sitting ducks. They ran along the alleyway looking for the other corner of the building and open space, but drew up short as they got there and shots rang out, making concrete dust of the wall in front of them.
    They crouched down, hemmed in by the sudden action. They could still hear shots but the wall stopped exploding. The main sound now seemed to be the diesel engine that must belong to the tank.
* * *
    Davie watched in disbelief as the fat old guy dragged his friend towards the airstrip. What was he going to do? Walk right out there? Just leave? And then what would stop him? Either they would shoot him and he would shoot Andy or they would miss him and shoot Andy. It was a Mexican standoff. It was OJ getting chased down the interstate at low speed. Who was really going to stop him?
    They followed on slowly as the man made his steady advance to freedom.
    Then the wall in front of them began exploding and the tank began to rattle as it got in the way of the bullets and everything went wrong.
* * *
    Victor was leaving. They would not shoot him with this boy. They valued life too highly. He was going to walk out that gate and he was going to take the extra helicopter that stood waiting for him. That was what was going to happen.
    They had destroyed everything here but they would not claim him as a scalp.
    The tank tailed him slowly so he dragged the boy behind. They would not risk the damage likely to be caused by the exploding bullets from its gun.
    Slow and sure. That was the way.
    Then the wall exploded. Then the policeman was there on the ground and he dropped his guard and the boy.
* * *
    They were going to have to beat a retreat, Burke thought. There was no way they were gaining any ground here. “Maybe if he makes it to the wall we could pick him off if we had a marksman here,” he suggested.
    The eye in the sky advised that the targets were headed their way but that the marksmen were pinned down at the other side of the complex dealing with the others.
    He turned to check for some kind of response from Edwards and was met with a cold gaze.
    “You know, don’t you?” Edwards asked.
    Burke had never had much of a poker face. On this occasion it failed him again. He did indeed know. “Why?” he asked before he could stop himself.
    “You know why,” Edwards said. All trace of expression had left his voice.
    “It can’t be for you career. It can’t mean that much to you.”
    “Can’t mean that much to me,” Edwards barked back, “try going through what I’ve been through and tell me your career means so little. Try watching people under your command getting gunned down or blown to bits in front of you and coming out the other side the only one lucky enough to make it out and tell me that doesn’t mean something, and that you don’t feel you have to make everything count for the ones that didn’t make it.”
    “I have,” Burke said. “But you knew that.”
    “Of course. But I don’t think it’s the same thing is it? Losing your team because you weren’t up to handling a firearms incident on a council estate.”
    Neither man said anything for a few seconds as all hell continued to break loose around them. Burke had been trained to deal with people on the edge but this was one they didn’t cover in negotiation techniques, getting the homicidal nut job out of the firefight in one piece while at the same time maintaining your own structural integrity.
    “Why Leon Williams?” he finally asked, playing for time.
    Edwards smiled at this. “Luck of the draw I’m afraid. Collateral damage. Had to look after the operation and ensure targets were met. Had to pull rank. But I think it’s all shaping up nicely.” He cast an arm round at what they could see of the scene.
    Another hail of bullets from the fire fight hit the wall and filled the air with concrete dust. Burke’s clumsiness was another great failing. He felt the shove before he actually knew what had happened. The air left his lungs as he hit the floor. He couldn’t breathe and the blood began to spurt everywhere.
    He realised he needed time. There was no time. He gasped for air but there was none of that either. He had to move but couldn’t. And then it was all over.
* * *
    The policeman had burst out from behind the shed in the corner causing the old man to hesitate. He must have thought his number was up. He dropped Andy, and Big Al who was never the steadiest in a combat situation, always dropped the ball if he got it out of the scrum, just a bit too trigger happy really, overreacted. They would later conclude it was like he’d thought he was trying to herd a bull with a quad bike. He’d just jammed both sides of the tank full on forward and didn’t stop, not until they were over the would-be kidnapper, through the breezeblock wall and on the airstrip facing a wall of coppers.
    It had been an accident of course. No one really wanted to plough some old git down with a tank, no matter what they said in the pub about pensioners being worth fifty points in the car.
* * *


    The air ambulance was swift in attendance, having been put on standby in preparation. Casualties were low, all things considered; one dead Lithuanian businessman it was doubtful anyone would miss, which was just as well, as an open casket funeral was well and truly out of the question given the very extensive crushing injuries not to mention familiar stripy pattern caused by the hopefully not too protracted death that came as a consequence of being mangled by a tank, one dead mercenary with a hole in his throat and some missing teeth who probably knew the risks, one heavily concussed lawyer who also had fractured ribs and collarbones but seemed alert and willing enough to confess to all sorts, one teenager with a broken arm who was pretty grateful about that and whose parents were unlikely to be worried about him going off to university in the city and the relatively tame dangers that involved, and last but by no means least, one detective inspector whose carotid artery had been shredded upon impact with the hollow point bullet from an AK47 assault rifle and whose resultant blood loss had meant not only Edwards’s death but also the irrevocable staining of Burke’s favourite North Face fleece.
    He’d tried to stop the fucker bleeding to death but there wasn’t much to work with. Plugging a hole might be one thing but this was more of a burst pipe. Edwards though, would doubtless consider it a small mercy, avoiding the consequences of his actions as he now had.
    It was Burke’s clumsiness that had saved him, that and his dodgy ankle. He’d lost his footing, and Edwards, overdoing it, had overextended and followed suit, turning himself into a human shield in the process, a duty he had performed admirably.
    He knew it might be arrogance, knew some would interpret it that way, but it did all fit. It had been Edwards’ own use of language that had given him away.
    Billet was not a word used by many these days to describe their bed, generally only those of a military disposition. At first he’d discounted the public school accent and the fact it didn’t generally tally with that of a Glaswegian detective inspector, but then the Sarah Armstrong had turned up, concerned about the death of one of her operatives who had been on an undercover operation to flush out drug dealing networks by attempting to set up a fake one. Leon Williams, was not a real yardie and although posing as one and indeed living as one was unlikely to have gone about killing supposed rivals. The whole thing had started to fall apart under scrutiny and began to look a wee bit stage managed. And when he guessed the military connection, and took a long shot it had all started to make a modicum of sense.
    They had served together in Helmand, in the Royal Marines. Leon Williams was a serving Marine and Edwards his commanding officer. Williams probably recognised Edwards, more likely than vice versa. Maybe he’d confronted him, maybe not but his old CO had clearly offed him in time honoured special-forces style.
    The Lithuanian, Vlad, had come to a well-orchestrated end, and that was the thing that made Burke feel slightly arrogant and slightly insulted. Edwards knew about the shooting. He’d done his research. He’d staged this on his patch, partly due to circumstance but at least partly knowing he would join the dots, work out the significance of the machete and come to the right conclusion. But the cheeky bastard thought he could fool him, get him to draw the picture he wanted. That was the bit that stuck in his guts.
    It had worked to an extent though. Edwards had drawn Andreyevich out of his hideaway, leaving the head of an associate outside his kids’ school. That would make anyone lose their cool.
    Then Andreyevich had gone on to kill Karpov. That must have confused the hell out of Edwards. But the fact that it was an AK47 had given it away to an extent. The ultimate mark of respect for a fellow member of the brotherhood.
    He supposed they would put it all down to Andreyevich now though, now there was no suggestion of anything to the contrary.
    He should have kept his cool really, Edwards. They might never have found the murder weapon anyway. Paranoia - that was his undoing. He’d gone and overthought it and in the process proved himself guilty. Burke had called off the search for murder weapons in his house and car. No one would ever know. What good would it do? The family would receive all honours and cash due for a death in the line of duty. The kids would be proud of their father. All pomp and circumstance would be observed.
    Burke knew the truth, which was fine. Because that was the big thing for him, the one thing that made any sense. Now he could see the bigger picture. Now he could see all the angles, how it all fitted together, a clean equation, a balanced calculation in a world that was anything but.
    He looked at the horizon as the Campsies came into view and checked his phone.
    His stomach tightened when he saw the text. “Is there any way you could get me near the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital?” He asked the pilot.
    He hadn’t made it. Not for the actual conscious bit, the bit where she actually needed him.
    She was in theatre when he arrived and was ushered through after being draped in scrubs.
    And as he saw his son being brought into the outside world, wrenched from the womb and hauled into the bright lights of the sterile theatre, he swore that he would change. They deserved better, his family, and he could be better surely.
    As he held the child in his arms he hoped he meant it for all their sakes.
    When she woke she was blunt. Not in a way that meant she’d get over it. It wasn’t the anaesthetic or the hormones or any of the million other things he could happily have blamed it on while deep down knowing better. This was real, as real as it got.
    There was no softness in her tone, only a cold hard ultimatum. “Them or us.”

    He sat now looking at the sunset as the snow began to fall, a Glenfiddich Havana Reserve in one hand, a burning Montecristo in the other. As the smoke climbed, a tear fell.
    The familiar jangling clang of a Fender Jagstang echoed along with one man’s voice singing another’s words.


    He sat in the shrink’s office again, having summarised the week’s events as best he could, to the same unemotional conditioned responses as always. Nothing was ever committal from her side. She would never give anything away about how she personally felt in relation to the events and feelings as they were described by the subject in front of her.
    He often wondered what she really thought. Was there a level of disgust at it all? Did she even have any personal feelings on the subject, other than a professional enthusiasm for an unusual case?
    “You’ve had a busy week,” she said, in conclusion, drawing a line under it in an effort to move things on.
    He knew it was coming. He knew the drill, but that didn’t stop the sense of dread, like knowing he had to get out of bed on a cold morning.
    “And are we alone today?” she asked, finally.
    “Yes,” he answered, like a kid who’d been asked if he’d done his homework. He hated this.
    “You’re sure?”
    She waited, letting him calm a little. “And where are Jones and Campbell?”
    “Gone,” he replied, before adding “for now at least.”
    She nodded, looking at the window to her left. “You know they were gone over a year ago James?” she asked.
    “Of course,” he confirmed.
    “They were shot and killed. You were there.”
    “I’m quite aware of that,” he snapped, taking a deep breath. Did they have to go through this every time? He felt bad enough without it.
    “I know you are,” she agreed. “If I didn’t…” she stopped herself.
    “If you didn’t you’d have me in a padded cell. I’m quite aware of that too,” he growled.
    “My only concern is that you know who is there and who isn’t, and of course who you are and who you aren’t. If you feel you can manage that then you’re not…”
    “A danger to myself and everyone else. You’ve said.”
    She smiled, putting her pen down. “Until next time then.”
The End
Detective Inspector Burke will return in How the Other Half Die.