As The Crow Dies

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Chapter Nine

Diner Blues

Arriving late to his apartment in Dumfries, Nathan decided to get a good night’s sleep. He went to bed at ten, set the alarm and it went off at six am. He rose at 6:20 after hitting the snooze button twice, which had become his custom. He started every morning with a hot cup of coffee and two slices of rye toast. When his phone rang, he didn’t need to look at the ID. He knew who it was. “Aye, Guv. What’s the good word this morning?” he asked, hoping there was some.

“Not the words I wanted, but I have a few things to start. Let’s meet for breakfast. Say … The Olde Forge? I haven’t been there for ages.”

“I’ll be there in half an hour. Ta.”

-2-

The Olde Forge Diner was a quaint, traditional Scottish eatery with food and coffee always made to Lochlan’s specs. He wasn’t a picky eater, per se, but when he wanted his eggs done “medium” he meant just that. No one in their right mind would serve an egg where you couldn’t dip your toast in the gooey middle. Surely not. Yet, his stomach turned sour as he parked at the once beautiful place. Nathan arrived at the same time and got ready to bite his lip, because before them was an abomination in writing hanging over the front door.

Denny’s. America’s Diner.

“What the gal-la? (WTF in Gaelic)” he yelled at he exited his car, leaving the driver’s door wide open and revealing he did know a few words of Gaelic, but they were all profane. “I thought the Americans left our gracious land back in ’45. Now, the Yanks are invading us again! Before long they’ll be one of their ‘Greasy Spoons’ in every village. Oh … I am depressed.”

Three people, one man, two women, were going to enter but seeing Lochlan’s tantrum they made a hasty exit. Nathan couldn’t help himself and busted out laughing. He wasn’t wild about working with Lochlan, but the man did deliver a laugh a day without even trying. He closed Lochlan’s door and cautiously walked up to his mate.

“Lochlan. Lochlan, please calm down. I don’t want you to have a heart spasm ’cause I really don’t wanna have to give you mouth to mouth. To be honest, you are not my type. Let’s at least go in and check the menu.”

Lochlan sighed and entered when Nathan held the door open. How does Kenna put up with this man? Nathan thought. The lassie must be a saint.

The waitress in charge led them to a spacious booth and asked about beverages. They ordered tea, light and sweet, and asked for menus. Within a flash she had all four items and said she’d check back later. Nathan knew he wanted something small because he’d already eaten. Lochlan took his carte du jour and read every line. The server kept looking at them, probably wondering what was taking them so long. Lochlan laid his menu down and folded his hands together.

“Considering the fact you are our resident genius,” he asked Nathan with a deadpan expression, “just what the hell is a ‘Grand Slam’?”

“In food or American baseball?”

“Both.”

“A grand slam, in the States, is when a baseball player score four runs with one home run. Here, it’s more food than one man can possibly eat. Have you made up your mind Yet, Guv?”

“Aye, I have. Watch me.”

He ordered the Grand Slam Slugger and Nathan had two eggs, scrambled with his favorite, wheat toast. After she whisked herself to the kitchen, they engaged in some small talk but nothing serious. About five minutes later she delivered Nathan’s order and went back for Lochlan’s. which made the elder slewfoot sit back and take noticed at his two eggs—which were surely medium—three strips of bacon, three sausage links, three buttermilk pancakes plus hash browns and orange juice.

Nathen ate slowly but couldn’t help but notice his boss’s pace. Lochlan was shoveling it in like a farmhand, never wincing or complaining about a bad bite or a bitter taste. In record time, to some, he cleaned his plate better than the family dog could after a Christmas dinner. Looking around for an ashtray, and seeing them on them al fresco, he knew it was non-smoking. He pointed to the tables on the court, held his empty teacup upside down and signaled their plans to their waitress by taking two fingers and a drag from an invisible cigarette. She got the message and followed them out with the tea pot, even sneaking a smoke herself.

“How’d you enjoy that breakfast?” Nathan asked, after they sat.

“It was … passable.”

What a stubborn, old sonofabitch he is, Nathan thought. I will never be like him. Well, it’s time to get down to business.

“Now that you are comfortable,” Nathan said to his boss. “I’ve got some good news and some awful news. What do you want first?”

“Give me the good.”

“The word ‘Faireachaile’ is Gaelic for ‘Vigilante’. Callum Berwick heard that name dropped by Arnott and one of his close friends, and we know who the friend is …was.

“From whom did you garner this Gaelic knowledge?” Lochlan asked, suspecting he knew the answer.

“You wife’s Nanna.”

“And what price did dear Charlotte put on her input?”

“Two weeks from today … we can carpool to her croft. She said you’d be a prize student.”

“Horse shite. And what was the good news?” Lochlan said as he took of big drag of his fag.

“Well … Arnott’s friend was none other than Boyd Thomson.”

The expression on Lochlan’s face is best described as what truckers call a “hundred mile stare,” which means the body was there but the mind was lost in the Highlands. A few seconds after his brain digested that revelation the feeling of disappointment and sadness encased him. He was not a happy man.

It is what I contemplated, he thought. One of our own is mixed up in this calamity. I must proceed lightly, because me student is watching me every move.

He sighed as he drank the last of his tea. “Then this is what we must do. I will go and talk to Arnott personally about this ‘situation’ and in private. Inspector Arnott has as much time as I do in this life, but I will show him no mercy if he is one of them.”

“What would you have me do?” Nathan asked.

“Go and spend some time with Berwick. Tell him he need not be involved in this from now on.”

“Why not?”

Lochlan looked long and hard at his mate and did not blink. “Because those of us who decide to take these people on … we may be doing so at a cost of our own lives. Nathan, do you understand the language I am speaking here?”

“Now wait a minute, Guv. Do you think these criminals would be so brazen as to kill one of us?”

“In the bat of an eyelash. Because of your youth, you do not know this particular breed of men. They brazenly exhibited their four murders in one night for all the daylight to see, which means they are extremely confident they will never be caught. They think their cause is a righteous one and death in this service will exonerate them of all past sins. You cannot reason or bargain with such a man. He must be contained … or be killed.”

Nathan lowered his head and took a sip of his tea. He was dying to ask his boss one question, and now seemed to be the proper time.

“Mr. Kincaid.” Nathan said with the utmost respect. “Do you think these men who kill sexual perverts are really criminals?”

Lochlan thought hard before he answered. “The part of me brain that acts like a jury is still out on that. Yet, we are officers of the law and murder is still murder, for a good cause or not.”

Lochlan picked up the check and left their waitress a generous two-pound tip. It was a silent walk for both back to their cars as they knew they’d inherited the most important case of their lives.

***

Upon arriving at the office Lochlan immediately searched for Arnott’s phone number. He dialed the Glencoe Constabulary only to find out Arnott had been off on sick leave for the past two days. After convincing the Desk Sargent of his sincerity in wanting to visit him, Lochlan got his home address. He felt it only proper to stop by his croft and tell Kenna personally about another trip up north. He knew she’d take it well as it was his job, and he always did his best to make up for lost time when he returned home. Sometimes, he even share a few tid-bits about his cases with her because she could keep a secret.

But, there was no telling her now about the war in his mind.

-2-

Motoring easy up the A82, Lochlan estimated his ETA at three in the afternoon. Sometimes he enjoyed driving a long distance by his lonesome as it gave him time to think of things to say. His first impulse was to take Arnott by the throat and kick his arse, but when his years of experience in interrogations triggered his common sense, he knew that wasn’t the proper approach. After exiting at the Glencoe get-off, he pulled to the berm. He wasn’t one to type anything on his phone while driving; that should be against the law to his thinking. He punched in Arnott’s address, and with Google Maps, zeroed in on his destination. Good, he thought. Two cars in the driveway means someone’s home. He pulled in behind their cars and slowly got out of his. In the thirteen or so steps to the front door he adjusted his look and his attitude.

“Hello?” she said as she answered the doorbell. “Can I help you?”

“Aye, madam. Is your husband home this lovely day?”

“Please forgive my suspicious nature, sir, but who’s asking?”

“Lochlan Kincaid,” he said as he produced his warrant card. “Oliver and I are old friends. I was in the neighborhood and I heard he was sick. Just thought my visit might do him some good.”

Her whole semblance changed from skeptical to welcoming quickly. “Come with me. And by the way, my name is Doris.”

Doris Arnott was in her forties with dark brown hair, sky-blue eyes and a charming smile now that she knew who Lochlan was. She was wearing a small amount of makeup, minimal earrings and a black dress with a gold line running diagonally across its front. There was no doubt she was the lady of the house. Oliver was at his desk, still wearing his pajamas, so Lochlan thought he may very well be sick.

“Honey, there’s a Mr. Kincaid to see you,” she said.

Oliver was sitting in his chair busy working at his desk. Lochlan thought he had dipped back in time to Sherlock Holmes’ office because of the disarray. Papers, newspapers, manuals and all manner of what-nots decorated every inch of flat space. Oliver turned to lock at his guest with a strange look on his face; like the lad caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Lochlan immediately put on an aire of innocence with a charming smile and an outstretched hand that seemed to relax his future interviewee.

He rose slowly from his resting spot and greeted Lochlan with a warm handshake and asked how he’d been. Lochlan answered in a positive tone that he was making progress with the case but needed Oliver’s help with a few things. Before Oliver could answer Doris entered the room with a squeaky cart topped with coffee, cream, sugar and a few what looked like oatmeal-raisin cookies. She served them and then looked at her husband. He gave her a quick nod of the head—as in “you know what to do”—and she closed the French doors tightly upon leaving. Lochlan could tell by that maneuver Oliver didn’t share things with his wife as he sometimes did with his.

“Care for a little ‘Irish’?” Oliver asked as he produced a bottle of The Dead Rabbit, the finest of Irish Whiskeys.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Lochlan said as he held up two fingers together, the old way of measuring out two shots.

Oliver took a drink, sat back in his chair, sighed and started the conversation. “Lochlan, how long have we known each other?”

“I’d say nigh onto twenty years or more. Why do you ask?”

“Because in all me twenty-three years as an Officer of the Court, I have been diligent in me duties. Have you ever known me to be not?”

“No, sir, I have not. You are a credit to your profession,” Lochlan answered with sincerity.

“Then, my old friend … why are you really here?”

Lochlan stared at him, his anger starting to be obvious. He downed his coffee and gently placed cup and saucer on the cart.

“I can see you know I have alternative meanings for my visit here, so I will plainly ask you. Are you involved with this group of vigilantes known as the Faireachaile?”

Oliver leaned back and looked hard at his old friend. At first he thought he’d lie, but he knew that’d be fruitless.

“Aye,” he answered without a stutter or stammer.

Oh Sweet Jesus in Heaven. Lochlan thought. What on earth do I do now?

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