Frederick sat at his table. He looked out of the window then down at his laptop. It was still dark morning when I walked past. He was wearing green and blue pyjamas and a red and black woolly hat. I waved. He raised a hand in mournful benediction.
A year or so later, Frederick invited me to the launch of his new book. He knew I was a fan though I had never said so and we had never spoken about his work. I never heard a sound up through the floor from his flat except for what I called his Wagner nights and he never complained to me.
His publisher spoke first: Ladies and gentlemen, Frederick will start the evening by reading the very first few paragraphs of his new thriller. You will be the very first people to hear, or read, this new story. There will then be time for questions.
Frederick cleared his throat. “His next victim walked past his window and waved jauntily. He clearly suspected nothing. He thought the killer was his friend. Edinburgh people were like that. They took lack of open hostility as friendship.”
I stopped listening. His next victim?
The shape of a hand disappearing as the grass in silence rose again. The next day, after the overnight rain, it would be invisible. But the crucifix on the snapped chain was still there, buried crossbar-deep in the soft black earth. New morning sun then midday then night. The world turned and the victim’s next of kin wondered, not knowing yet what they had become.
I explained to the stranger how he could kill my ex-wife’s lover and not get the blame or get caught because there was no connection between the two of us except this random conversation between the two of us in the ill-lit toilet of a Soho club and that I’d forget we had talked when I came down from the coke and the speed and I thought I had given him all the information he needed but no reward, no, no reward, what reward could he need except for the joy of killing a bad person he had never met and getting away with it scot free, scot free, and that was quite funny because now I lived in Scotland but now was down in London and I laughed and I laughed and the man’s eyes widened still further and he said ‘no entiendo’ and ran out of the men’s room.
The young man ran, fell to his knees, ran again. His breath was ragged, the swirling night mist a cold knife to his lungs. He fell again, groaned. Behind him in the darkness a light tracked from side to side.
His hands sinking in mud, he levered himself up and staggered on. The light drew closer then suddenly was gone. He crouched, breathed, swallowed a sob. The light snapped on again. he covered his eyes. “Yer da says hello.” Two shots cracked and echoed.
A long way away a phone rang. “Done? … Good…. The other half will be with you when I see the photo. I need to see it…. It’s so important you hunted him down and held him. I miss my boy so much…. Held him…. What? Held him…. Held him!”
On the phone there was the sound of breathing, of the wind and then silence.
You know who I am don’t you? It was many years ago but you know who I am. I can see it in your eyes. You know I’m not just a regular house breaker with a gun and pliers and duct tape. Now you’re remembering the little boy hiding in the street as you drove away. And just now you’re wondering whether to move but you know it would do more bad than good. It would be slower. Yes, that was me hiding there all those years ago. Those years you have had but we didn’t. They were long years. Did you enjoy them? Did you savour each moment like a ice cube to a man in the desert? I hope you did.
Hope. Yes, I always had that. For all those years. I could not have survived without it. How does it feel not to have hope? How does it feel to feel like you do now?
The stranger looked past Kelly as the fire cleaned, hollowed, scoured the building. Flames danced in his dark eyes.
Kelly could not look away. The flames flickered higher and higher, the spinning blue lights behind her lit and shadowed his face.
Later, the sun coming up behind him darkened his face. The fire was dead but still they stood there, flames in his eyes still flaring.
He pulled the hood closer. He lifted her cold hand to his lips and blew gently on it. Time stopped. Blackness.
The stranger’s fingers were still linked with hers, the sun still rising. He began to walk away from the black dead building. Kelly followed and they ran side by side, fingers still locked together.
On the wasteland beyond the not yet burnt buildings they stopped, breathed heavily, the flames in Kelly’s eyes reflected in the stranger’s.
“Gonna do another one the mornin’?”
They would not accept a crushing bloody defeat. 51-49 or 52-48 would give fire in the belly for the fight to come; 55-45 would be a hurt for a generation. 60-40? That could never happen if Scotland was honest with herself.
Robbie put his cross where his heart was and breathed out. That was it. Let that be an end to it. He folded the paper once, lifted the curtain aside and walked over to the ballot box. As he dropped the paper in, the mechanical buzzing in the box grew louder, died away again. But nobody heard. Not then.
Night in the urban park. Footsteps following. The owl screech was sharpened rusty knife sharp. The rusty knife though was silent.
The smell of gas turned out to be a dead neighbour. The news spread around the close immediately. Everyone knew that Murdoch lived alone, and never had a visit until the one from the man who looked like a police officer. He walked up to the door and knocked with something that sounded harder than knuckles. The door opened and he went in. Somebody inside knocked again, twice, then a few seconds later once again. The man came out, looked up and down the road, smoothed his jacket, closed the door and got into the big black car.
“Aye. Here’s the photo.”
They looked at his phone. Then the man in the leather jacket shot the man who looked like a police officer in the head. They smashed his face and fingers with a hammer. They took off his clothes. They put his body in the big black car with the hammer, the gun and the clothes and set it all on fire. They watched it burn, smelling the petrol and the meat. Then they walked out of the warehouse and along the river. The woman dropped the smashed phone off the bridge.
When the man from the gas company saw what was in the house, he ran out again. The neighbours watched from their windows. It is not clear how they found out it was Mad Dog because the man from the gas company stood alone and was not speaking. But somehow they all knew. And somehow they all knew not to talk when the journalists, and the people who looked like police officers, visited.
Murdoch. Mad Dog. Murdoch. People asked how he got away with it for so long. Then they understood how and stopped asking.
The man at the door said he was from the police. He looked it. He had a badge on a lanyard. Jan gave him all the details he asked for. He was looking for a man who had pretended to be a police officer. He had robbed a house last week.
Jan wondered what the robber looked like. The man at the door described the robber and his car. Jan looked beyond him at the car outside the gate. The man at the door smiled. There was nothing to worry about. Jan smiled back.
Jan promised to call the man at the door if anything out of the ordinary happened then invited him in for a cup of tea. The man at the door smiled and said thank you and went in. Jan looked at the car in the street again and closed the door.