As The Crow Dies

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Chapter One

The Four Corners

It was a cool, damp and rainy afternoon as brothers Connor and Gavin Adair walked their dogs along the mere of Loch Arthur. Conner, at seventeen years of age, was the elder and walked his prize Bullmastiff named Max, as in “Maximum Dog Allowed by Scottish Law.” The lad weighed in at just twenty pounds heavier than Max’s one hundred and thirty pounds, and it was a good guess as to who was walking who. Gavin’s border collie, Kasey, was much lighter, more inquisitive than his canine cousin but was a joy to watch at the Sheep Dog contests. Suddenly, their playful gates came to a dead stop. Up ahead, coming away from the lake was a dog they knew, running towards them at full speed with a frantic bark. It slowed and trotted up to them, panting and drooling.

“Bailey,” Connor said as he bent down and tried to comfort the dog. “Slow down, slow down. And where might your master be?”

“Isn’t that James MacGonigal’s dog?” Gavin asked.

“It tis, brother. But she’s a long way from her home croft. This is unusual.”

Bailey caught her breath and began to run back. She turned towards the boys and barked loudly three times. Connor took that as a signal to follow and they ran with her until they saw it. Bailey stopped by a patch of high grass, trotted back to them and her quarry twice.

“Connor,” Gavin said as he tried to catch his breath. “What can this be? She’s just barking at an old pole in the ground.”

“It must be more than that,” Connor said as he gave Max’s leash to Gavin. “Stay here. I’ll go and see what she sees.”

Connor moved swiftly at first but slowed with each measured step as he drew closer. He could make out a bit of color that looked a little too human and a pang of fright eased from him. Before him was a naked man, lying face down with his face completely covered. Connor could tell by the tattoo on the man’s right arm it was MacGonigal. His body was stretched out as if in a pattern of sorts and a white, wooden pole was protruding from his back. Placed at his head, feet and arms were four, face up dead crows, all pinned to the earth by small spikes. Hearing Gavin wrenching and vomiting at the site, Connor moved back to comfort his sibling.

“I’ve watched enough Poirot to know this area must be preserved,” Connor said in a now authoritative and calm tone. “Go call 999. I’ll stay with … him.”

-2-

Chief Inspector Lochlan Kincaid of Police Scotland—never to be confused with Scotland Yard, a conglomerate of “whiners and hypocrites” as he judged them—was a highly acclaimed detective in his own right. Using all his powers and experience every waking minute of every working day to untangle murders, his solve and conviction rate was eighty per cent, a feat no one had accomplished to date. He traced his linage back to the Clan Kincaid, a mighty fighting force of yesteryear whose motto was “This I Will Defend.” Lochlan swore to uphold the Rule of Law and chase the guilty to the steps of Parliament if need be.

He was sometimes popular with his co-workers, and sometimes not.

This day found him at his desk looking over the day’s reports. He was fifty years old, and it was showing, slightly over six feet tall and of moderate build. His hair was receding with small streaks of grey appearing here and there, of which he paid no mind. Fretting over details, working long hours at times had created the face of a tired man, but he was anything but worn down.

Along with the excitement of solving heinous crimes he had become a fan of poetry, namely Senryu. He told no one about his latest obsession, because real men never dabbled in useless words that seldom rhymed. Yet, in his personal journal, he’d been summing up the final day’s report of each case by inventing a Senryu poem. He thought it’d be an easy way to remember the details if made into a simple verse. He’d started the process a year ago, and to his chagrin knew he was anything but a rhapsodist.

Lochlan paused long enough to gaze at his partner, Nathan Dunbar. He reminded Lochlan of himself many years ago. Nathan was tall, a little on the thin side with a shock of brown hair so thick it made toupee shapers wishing they were in his will. Having just celebrated his thirtieth birthday, he’d only been in the Homicide Division for six months and wasn’t exactly thrilled by being paired with the Constabulary’s biggest “ball buster.”

Nathan sat in his usual desk position: leaned back in his chair, legs crossed with the phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Suddenly he snapped to attention so quickly even Lochlan noticed and lent an eavesdropping ear to the conversation.

“You said what?” Nathan asked. His eyes began to shift back and forth as he grabbed pen and paper. “What was around him? Nailed down you say. Mate, are you sure of this? Oh hell no, I’ve never heard of this. Where was the pole? Do not touch a thing. I’m sending Forensics out right now. Just calm down. We’ll be there shortly.”

“What’s got you so riled?” Lochlan asked.

“Something very, very strange has happened north of Thornhill. I’ll contact MacGregor and his team and fill you in as we travel. We’d better move out before we lose the light.”

***

They hurriedly jumped into Lochlan’s aging BMW, with Nathan driving. Time on the job had its privileges and the lesser ranked officer was always the chauffeur. With lights ablaring they headed north on the A76, while Lochlan contacted the forensics unit and gave the rough location of the incident, finding they were already enroute. Nathen filled Lochlan in on what details he knew which drew the response “I’ve seen a lot a shite, but this is a new one to me.”

“Who called this one in?” Lochlan asked.

“One of Thornhill’s constables. He said two boys found the body and they’re still onsite.”

Just a little north of Thornhill proper they saw the constable’s car. It was parked off the road with it lights fully lit. Nathan stopped and before they could exit the forensics van pulled in.

“Bullshite,” Lochlan said “I wanted a quick look for myself before they got here. When they put up the tents it almost ruins it for me. I like the ambience of a pure murder scene. It helps me concentrate—what the hell are you laughing at?”

Nathan turned his head away and tried to bite his lip, but his mentor was known for saying some outrageous things.

“Sorry, Guvnor. The ‘ambience’ thing struck me funny bone, tis all. But I can see your point. Let’s walk down with them and play it by ear.”

The first thing they noticed when walking carefully down through the tall grass was the constable, two young men and three dogs. They greeted all six and Lochlan—who would be the primary in this case—approached the young men as Nathan questioned the constable. Amos “Mac” MacGregor and his team were busy putting on their spacesuits and gathering their crime cases needed to do the proper job. Lochlan waited for Amos and then all those with police status slowly walked over to the scene.

“Amos,” Lochlan asked as he lit a cigarette, “Have you ever heard of anything like this in your travels?”

“Not in my lifetime,” he answered as he bent down and turned on his tape recorder.

“Male victim, approximately thirty to forty years of age, lying face down, completely nude with arms and legs spread out and looking like they were staged that way. Tattoo on right shoulder depicting … a Clan coat of arms …maybe … with a wooden pole approximately one and one half inches in diameter protruding from his back between the third and fourth ribs and possibly puncturing the heart.”

“Let’s roll him over halfway. Don’t let this stake touch the ground,” MacGregor said to his associate. They pulled the man’s right arm to his side and gently turned him to give their boss a better look. As Mac bent down on one knee to get closer , Lochlan noticed a sigh coming from his old friend, who was shaking his head, cupping his chin and running a quick hand thru his snow-white hair. He continued his report.

“Cause of death, a single small caliber bullet to the middle of the forehead … no exit wound … no sign of blood on the victim …signifying the victim was killed off sight. Autopsy will reveal the slug and damage as skull is opened. Surrounding the victim,” Mac said as he pulled the stake from one crow, “are four dead crows, impaled to the ground by sixteen penny common nails, possibly two to three inches long. All pointed in four directions … east, west, north and south.”

After Mac told his man to get a body bag and stretcher, he moved towards Lochlan and Nathan. “I’ll tell you truly, gentlemen,” Mac said as he pulled out a hanky and blew his nose, “in all my thirty-three years of covering death after death I have never seen—nor heard of—a demise of this character. I’d thought I’d seen it all, but now my career is complete. I have the topper.”

Lochlan took one last drag of his cigarette and turned his foot over the butt. “That surprises me greatly, my friend. I too am mystified at this almost … ceremonial placing of the man.”

Just then, a light went off in Lochlan’s brain, but he decided to keep it to himself.

“Thank you for your prompt attendance to this matter,” Lochlan said as he shook Mac’s hand. “I’m intrigued by the bullet size. How do you know it was small?”

“I’d say a .22 caliber, the favorite of Mafia hitmen in America. It goes in, bounces around, destroying all gray matter in its way but doesn’t have enough power to exit.”

“Do you think the Mafia could have done this?” Nathan asked.

“Not hardly,” Mac replied. “They always leave the gun laying by the ‘mark’ as they call it.”

“When will we get a final report?” Lochlan asked.

“Shortly. Maybe by late tomorrow. This definitely has priority. Do we know the next of kin?” Mac asked.

“He has a wife and two small children,” Conner offered. “But they disowned him some three years back. He’s been alone ever since.”

“Do you know where they’re at now?” Lochlan asked.

“I heard somewhere up around Glencoe.”

“Then we’ll find them,” Lochlan said as he looked over Gavin. His complexion appeared pasty with beads of sweat on his forehead. “You’ve done your part. You appear to be at ease now after seeing this, but your brother looks whiter than the average Swede. How will he fare?”

Again, Nathan hung his head, bit his lip and belayed another chuckle.

“He’ll be fine after I get him home. Not to worry.”

“And MacGonigal’s dog?”

“She’ll go with us. One more four-legger won’t hurt anything at our croft.”

“Capital then,” Lochlan said as he surveyed the horizon. “Tis getting late and we have paperwork to do. Might I remind you to keep your silence in this matter till after the postmortem. Then you can fight with the press.”

“Aye, sir.”

And with that Mac and company loaded the corpse into their wagon, and everyone departed for their respective duties. Nathan dropped his mentor off, got into his car with reassurances from Lochlan they’d take this up in the morning.

Lochlan so needed a pinch.

-3-

After hanging up his full-length, London Fog overcoat, and dropping his shoes under it for the comfort of his slippers, Lochlan called for his wife. Her name was Kenna, meaning “beautiful woman” in Gaelic and that she was. No one noticed her shortness of stature because her brilliant red hair and piercing blue eyes immediately caught their full attention. She came from the kitchen, hugged her husband more intensively than usual and asked about his day. Of course, Lochlan brushed it off as just another murder and never told his sweetheart of twenty years the whole truth of each case. Ethically he couldn’t, and she needn’t to know the seamier side of human nature. To be honest, it sometimes baffled him as to why some people felt they must rid the earth of other people.

“Are you going into your study for a while?” she asked

“Aye. I have much paperwork to catch up on. I’ll be up later to tuck you in.”

He kissed his love on her forehead and proceeded with his duties. As any Scotsman worth his salt will tell you, the evening mind works better with four—to no more than eight—ounces of Pinch, the finest Scotch whiskey in the whole wide world. He sat behind his desk, getting “pinched” as his wife called it, looked at the day’s happenings, knowing his peculiar system of remembrance would be tricky.

A man killed … no, executed in a most medieval way, he thought, along a well-used nature walking path. No attempt to hide the victim … the crows? The crows … almost his accompaniment … let’s Senryu this one.

A vampire’s demise

on the mere he lay to rest

dead crows guard his quest

Lochlan finished the last of his six ounce “medication” and closed his private journal, only to be greeted by a soft “humph.”

“Have you gotten pinched enough for tonight?” Kenna asked, with a smile.

“Aye ma’am, I have.”

“That’s marvelous. Come to think of it, I haven’t been pinched for over a week now.”

Knowing an invite to an evening of love, fun and games, Lochlan stood and followed his wife up the steps to her boudoir, smiling from ear to excited ear.

Until the phone rang.

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