He frowned. Small talk wasn’t like Mhairi. She was working up to something. He wondered if it was the same something.
‘It’ll be two years in September, since wee Paul died. Weird the way things work oot, eh Big Man?’
It was …
‘Neil lost somethin’ special, in the Bar-L, an’ you an’ Stevie found somethin’.’
… and it wasn’t. Jas leant back on the sofa, flexing his arm. Through the window, the evening sky was clouding over.
Neil. Neil Johnstone.
Serving life for the murder of another prisoner. Briefly the lover of Mhairi McGhee’s brother Paul, serving eighteen months for possession of Ecstasy. And responsible by proxy for the scar on Mhairi’s face.
Their thoughts moved along parallel lines. ‘Ah visit, when ah can.’
Not so much losing an enemy as gaining a … brother-in-law? ‘Neil still in the Bar-L?’
‘Jimmy wis moved tae Carstairs, last November.’
He tapped the end of his cigarette against the edge of a smoked-glass ashtray. ‘Here endeth the history-lesson.’ A smile twitched his lips.
‘Nothin’ …’ Jas drew the last millimetres of cigarette deep into his lungs, then stubbed the remnants into the ashtray. Maybe the something was better not talked about. Like abracadabra, maybe saying the words would give someone, somewhere, power. ‘Well, cheers fur shovin’ some business ma way.’ He hauled himself upright. His right arm refused to move, so he used his left. ‘Ah’ll gie Mrs Monaghan a ring, the night.’
‘Make it efter nine. Maggie’s holding the meetin’ at hur hoose, this week. Eyeways lays oan a guid spread, tae – ah think she likes the bakin’ as much as the company.’
‘Okay.’ Jas removed the receiver from the crook of his neck, holding it in his left hand while trying to flex the fingers of his right. He waited for her closure.
It came after another pause. ‘Luck efter yersel’, Big Man. Say hello to Stevie, fur me?’
‘Aye …’ He severed the connection.
Victim Support. Insurance. Joseph. The voice on the answerphone had sounded mid-fifties. Husband? Brother?
Jas played back the tape, wrote down the number and returned the phone-call.
Just after nine-thirty pm, the large living room of the second-floor flat in Rutherglen still bore traces of Mhairi’s recently departed Support Group …
‘Thanks for comin’, Mr Anderson. Sorry aboot the mess.’ Wearing the sort of pinny his grandmother had rarely taken off, Margaret Monaghan deftly placed a variety of cups and plates on an already laden tray.
… and testament to another, less-accepted departure. Jas pulled his eyes from the illuminated, framed photograph which sat on top of a well-polished sideboard. ‘Lemme give ye a hand.’
‘You sit doon, Mr Anderson – ah’ll just be a minute. Ye’ll take a cuppa tea, won’t ye?’
He knew better than to refuse. ‘That’ll be great.’ Jas sat on a worn but solid armchair. He didn’t usually do home visits – for obvious reasons – but Margaret Monaghan suffered from arthritis and seldom left her flat. As her ample, shuffling form disappeared through a doorway, Jas craned his neck to take in more of the makeshift altar.
A photograph. A large photograph in an ornate frame. Looked like a detail blown-up from a holiday snap. A football scarf curled around the base of the frame, a green-and-white guardian snake.
Draped across one corner, a small gold cross on a chain. On the wall above the photograph, a larger, gilt crucifix. Above that, a bleeding Sacred Heart.
The whole scene was lit by two, obviously new, desk-spots. And a small votive candle which flickered in front of a bevy of Mass cards.
Jas stared at the face in the photograph. Head-and-shoulders shot.
Mid-teens. Sandy hair cut into a bowl-shape, skimming pink ears. Green eyes. Which were smiling at someone just out of sight. ‘That was taken at his cousin Fiona’s wedding. Last spring.’
Jas turned his head towards the voice. For a big, arthritic woman, Margaret Monaghan moved silently.
She placed cup, saucer, milk and sugar containers on a small table to his right. ‘Joseph said it made him look like a wee boy, but ah eyeways liked him in it.’
He knew better than to comment: listening was part of his job.
‘Would have been eighteen, next week, Mr Anderson.’ She sat down in the armchair opposite him. And the shrine. The pinnywas gone, exposing blouse, cardigan and pleated skirt. Broad fingers smoothed the fabric, picking at invisible threads. ‘His whole life ahead o’ him.’ Eyes fixed on the spotlit scene.
‘You mind?’ Jas removed the small device from his pocket. He sat the voice-activated tape-recorder beside the cup and saucer, nodded to it.
She barely heard. For the next thirty minutes, tiny wheels turnedand he watched her talking to Joseph Monaghan. He turned the tape when she paused:
‘Mhairi said you could maybe … find oot how the police urgettin’ oan wi’ things.’
Jas kept his face impassive. ‘It’s an ongoing enquiry, MrsMonaghan. The police will be doin’ everything they can.’
She nodded. ‘Aye, ongoin’ – that’s whit ah keep gettin’ told.’ She was picking at the imaginary threads again. ‘Ongoin’ fur nearly a year, noo.’ No resentment in the voice. Just a little disappointment.
Jas didn’t tell her the official stats on detection-rates.
He didn’t tell her that, after a year, unsolved cases were put on the unofficial back-burner, and left there to dry out. She probably knew. Private Investigators were often straws to be clutched at.
‘Mhairi said ye wurney cheap.’ With some effort, she got out of her chair and walked to the altar.
Jas smiled at the bluntness and didn’t offer to help.
Margaret Monaghan pulled open a drawer in the highly polished sideboard. ‘Ma sister keeps fellin’ me ah should use this tae get a new hip.’ She turned.
Jas stared at the thick sheaf of notes.
‘But ah’d sleep easier, if ah kent everything that could be done wis bein’ done tae catch the animals who murdered ma Joseph.’ She shuffled towards him, dumping at least ten thousand in crisp pink notes into his lap.
He was intending to tell her the police were unlikely to co-operate with the private sector, full stop, if an investigation was ongoing.
Instead, he counted the money, gave her a receipt for his five hundred pound retainer and advised her to keep the rest somewhere more secure. Then he switched off the tape recorder, put it back in his pocket and told her he’d be in touch.
Jas Anderson, now working as a private investigator, is hired by a victim’s mother to get answers from a police force that seems unable to help. He finds a clue that the police may have missed then washes his hands of the case. At home, he shares his apartment with “Stevie” McStay, Anderson’s former cellmate and new boyfriend, as well as Stevie’s often-visiting two young children. Out of the blue, a voice from Jas’ past asks for help with a personal matter and a police investigation. He soon finds himself stirring an explosive cocktail of police corruption, football fanaticism, sectarianism, and murder, while … house hunting. Then the gay bashings begin again and suspicion falls close to home.
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