Chief Constable Bernard Brown, Police Scotland Dumfries Division, was a stern and upright man not unlike Lochlan. Bernard was a short, very stout man in his sixties, close to retirement but still commanded the respect of his underlings. So when his name came up on Lochlan’s caller identification he showed it to his wife.
“I’ll put the kettle on, “ Kenna said in a disgruntled voice while loudly adding a “Dammit” to her displeasure.
“Chief Constable,” Lochlan said in a displeased tone. “What can I do for you at this ghastly hour of night?”
“Firstly, you can cut the sarcasm. You know I wouldn’t bother you if it wasn’t important.”
“Ah … let’s try this then,” Lochlan said in a humbled tone. “What can I help you with, sir?”
“You can find a good place to sit down and do not pinch yourself any more this evening. Dunbar is on his way to pick you up.”
“Why would that be?”
“They’ve found four more dead crows in the west. Enough said?”
Lochlan sat down on the stairsteps. His inclination at the first murder was right. He knew this was not the last of it, and there was more to come.
“Whereabouts in the west?” Lochlan asked.
“Just outside of Glencoe,” Brown said. “Have you ever been there?”
Glencoe? Glencoe … why does this ring a bell? Oh Aye … those two.
“No, but I was planning a trip there to interview MacGonigal’s widow and their son. I’ve been told they live there now. Was there a man involved in this scenario?”
“Aye. Murdered in the same fashion. HQ must know something is up because—are you sitting down?”
“Aye. I am.”
“They’re putting you in charge of this investigation. They know you’re a no bullshite type of man and will get to the bottom of this. My fear is … that this is only the beginning of a case that will overwhelm us all. Don’t ask me how I know; I just do. I told them you’d be willing and would start immediately. I hope I said right … didn’t I?”
Well, it looks like Kenna won’t get pinched for a while … or me too for that matter. What can I say?
“Aye, absolutely. And our expenses?”
“I gave Dunbar my official police credit card. Spend it wisely, but don’t shortchange yourself either. The Glencoe police will brief you when you arrive. Now, if there’s nothing else, can I bid you a good night?”
“Aye, sir. And sleep well. I’ll contact you tomorrow when I have all the details.”
Kenna sat at the kitchen opposite a cup of steamy tea with her left leg crossed over her right, arms crossed. As pissed off as she seemed, she was still lovely to Lochlan. When her right foot began to swing left to right and back, Lochlan knew it was “One Hundred Questions” time.
“How long will you be gone this time?” she asked calmly, but curtly.
“Let me stir my tea, and I’ll tell you.”
Carefully going from start to finish, Lochlan broke his cardinal rule and decided to tell told her all, withholding no details. She gasped when she heard of the manner of death and the crow factor, but then sat upright with her elbows on the table, seemingly relaxed.
“Forgive my short burst of anger, love,” she said as she sipped her tea. “I know that you’re needed in this. If anyone can solve this, it’s you.”
“Thank you for your understanding, my choupinette,” he answered, calling her the French nickname for sweetheart. “Suffice it to say I will not tarry with this. I will miss our liaisons, so to speak, and be eager to again feel your warm embrace. Yet, you still look troubled. What’s bothering you?”
“Please give a cigarette,” she said, looking away.
“I thought you were trying to quit.”
“Quit smoking while I’m married to you? With this type of theatrics every other week? Surely you jest. And I need a light, too.”
Lochlan obliged her—what else could he do—and lit her fag. She took a long inhale, then an exhale and began her concerns.
“It’s this thing about the crows, darling. There’s something to this. Something …old worldish about it. It has meaning, and I bet I know who has the key.”
“Not your grandmother. Please, tell me that isn’t who you meant?” he said as his head snapped to attention.
“None other,” she said, smiling her ornery to almost wicked way.
Lochlan knew better than to argue this point. Grandmother Charlotte had been a thorn in his side ever since they met. She was the leading authority on all things Gaelic in Kenna’s family; or the world for that matter. Whenever they had to meet, Charlotte would continuously harang him about not learning the Gaelic language, like it was requirement to be able to call oneself a true Scot. The doorbell rang, and the subject was tabled till later.
“Evening, Guv,” Nathan said as he brushed the rain off his coat and hat. “The big boss has lent us his new car, and a credit card too. As they say in America, ‘We is living large’.”
“I could give a rat’s arse what they say across the pond. Have you packed an overnighter?”
“Aye. Even a two-nighter, if need be. Are you ready?”
“Not hardly. Go in the kitchen for a spot of tea. I’ll be back.”
While Kenna graciously served his partner with a cup, Lochlan grabbed a suitcase and began to pack his clothes, record books, both official and otherwise plus three, solid silver six ounce flasks of Pinch; one he kept out in the open and the other two that were hid in his old, smelly hunting boots. Kenna was fanatical about his “over pinching” but wouldn’t look in anything of his that smelly.
With Nathan driving—of course—they left precisely at midnight, drove the A82 to Glasgow, used the men’s room at a local truck stop and filled their travel mugs with strong coffee plus one Extra Strength No Doz apiece, bought at the cigarette counter where discriminating lorry drivers would get “right for the flight” as they called an all-night run.
Lochlan took the wheel after that because he needed a break from two things; Nathan’s driving and the boredom of riding. Not that he was a passenger-seat driver, but his mate drove way too fast for his comfort. The rain came and good visibility went, slowing their projected ETA to after four am. The coffee chased with the caffeine tablet kicked in and Lochlan’s mind began to race and ultimately wander into “Senryuland” as he sometimes called it.
Two men, two stakes … what does this mean? Certainly not vampires … good Lord this is 2019, not 1719.. I’ve always been able to grasp things like this, but now I am … motiveless. How can I word this?
To be so grotesque
there has to be a reason
crow blood is my guess.
Can I drive and write this down without Nathan seeing … oh good, he’s asleep.
Lochlan slowly and quietly removed both notebook and pen to jot down his recent inspiration, steering straight for the first line but oversteering into multiple lanes at the end. He could see the dim lights of Glencoe at the next exit and he shoved Nathan’s shoulder to wake him. “We’re almost here. Better wake up,” Lochlan said.
Nathan sat up, rolled down his window and grabbed a handful of rain to wipe across his eyes. He glanced at his watch. “Oi,” he exclaimed. “it’s almost sunrise. Did you stop somewhere and catch a nap?”
“No, been driving straight through.”
“You need to use the tape recorder on your mobile more often. Then you won’t have to go left of the center line twice when you have a thought,” Nathan said, with a cocky smile.
“Did you ever play Kincaid Charades?” Lochlan asked.
“No. But I know how to play the game.”
Lochlan held up two fingers.
Lochlan pulled on his right earlobe.
“Sounds like,” Nathan said not Yet knowing he was being set up until Lochlan held up a huge and erect middle finger, and Nathan knew what that sounded like.
“Point well taken, guv,” Nathan said, knowing he’d been topped by “the old man.” “Isn’t this our exit?”
“It tis. Let’s go straight to the cop shop first and clock in.”
Nathan bit his lip again, because his mentor was good for at least one laugh a day, guaranteed. No self-respecting Officer would call a Police Scotland Station a “shop” of any kind.
They walked slowly into the one-story and very common-looking police headquarters. After buzzing the front desk they were surprised at the quickness of the answer. Most stations are only half-staffed during the wee hours, but today it looked like the average dayshift. Everyone was alert, and at attention. They checked in at the front desk after they showed their badges.
“Good, then,” the Desk Sargent said, “The chief is waiting for you. Second door on the left down that hall,” as he pointed to the right. They walked down and Lochlan quietly tapped on the door.
“Chief Blake Anderson, I presume,” Lochlan said.
“The one and only. Gentlemen, please come in. I’ve been waiting for you two. What took you so long?”
Nathan looked away, not wanting to even crack the hint of a smile. “It be me mates’ fault,” Lochlan answered as he pointed to Nathan. “He drives too slow. Yet, we’re here now and anxious to start work.”
Nathan knew today’s score was Lochlan 1, Nathan 0.
Chief Anderson was a tall and rather muscular man in his forties, with a thick head of brown hair and even thicker eyebrows, which looked like they hadn’t been trimmed since his birth. He looked like a young Einstein and went straight to the point.
“About two miles north of here, on the shore of Loch Levin, a passing walker came upon a most terrifying sight. When he saw our victim, lying face down and in the all-together with a pole, or as he called it a ‘stake’ in his back, he notified us immediately. What he didn’t noticed were the—and I’m at a loss to explain this—dead crows nailed down around the man’s body.”
“Were they pointed as if in all four directions,” Nathan asked as he jotted down the conversation.
“… Why … Aye, they were. Almost north, south, east and west. This is what baffles me. Can either one of you shed some light on that for me?”
Lochlan had a sudden vision of he and Grandmother Charlotte locked in their usual verbal and confrontational way.
“I might know someone, but it’s early yet. Can we see the scene now?”
“Well,” the Chief said, “I was going to wait for forensics to arrive from Glasgow. It’ll be good and daylight by then.”
Lochlan leaned back in his chair and decided it was time to get deep into his bullshite bag. “I’m a night person, Chief. When the sun comes up I won’t be worth a hoot in hell. I’d much rather see it as it is now, unencumbered by human feet and hands, ifin you don’t mind.”
“No. I don’t mind atoll,” the Chief said, knowing it was fruitless to argue. “Follow me.”
They walked behind him into the garage and boarded his brand, spanking new American Ford Mustang, painted as an official police car should be with all the white, yellow and blue striping. Lochlan was a little tiffed at it not being a UK model, but when Chief Anderson told them to get in and said, “Let us ride,” the Dumfries officers readily complied.
“Lochlan,” the chief said. “You sit in the front, passenger seat. That’s what we call the ‘shotgun’ position.”
Nathan mumbled something about the shotgun position being a sexual thing as he got in the back seat, behind the bars usually set their to safely transport the guilty. Chief Anderson wasted no time getting to the sight, remarking at how much power his car had and its top speed of two hundred and fifty-seven kilometers per hour available if needed. Lochlan was sure, by his own pale complexion, that the Chief used all but seven of them as they exited the car for a short boat ride.
Loch Levin had a small island and was the home of a famous castle simply called Lochcastle. It was here the Scotsman Robert the Bruce visited Mary, Queen of Scots who was imprisoned there. Today, another prisoner was nailed to this sacred earth. They walked over to the Constable guarding the corpse and Lochlan stopped , holding each arm out to slow his mates.
“What is the Constables’ name?” he asked Anderson.
“It be Angus Murray.”
“Angus.” Lochlan yelled. “Tell me this. How many footprints are around the body?”
“Three sets, Guvnor. Mine, the man who found him and one other yet identified.”
“How can I be so blind,” Lochlan said quietly.
“Whatever do you mean?” the Chief asked.
“Well, it’s obvious, is it not?” Lochlan asked.
“What’s obvious?” Nathan asked.
“This man was dropped here from the air. One man set him there and another nailed the crows down. No man can do this by foot, I don’t care how strong he is.”
At that moment, the officers knew they were onto something worthy of Sherlock Holmes, although he had a Scottish doctor to keep him straight all those years. “Chief, we both need some sleep. Can you direct us to proper lodging?”
“Aye sir, I can. We have an account at the Heatherlea Bed and Breakfast. Finest food and bedding this side of Glasgow. I’ll make the call as we drive, then contact you tomorrow afternoon with the forensics findings. Agreed?”
“Definitely, we agree,” Nathan answered.
“Will you be needing one room or two?” Anderson asked.
The Dumfries team looked at one another and Nathan had the last word. “Definitely two, sir. Lochlan snores as bad as he drives.”
The score was now tied.
The coming sunrise cast a graceful glow on the Heatherlea. Nestled inside a grove of tall, oak trees, it was Scottish lodging at its best. Before they could exit, Lochlan’s mobile rang. The person on the other end relayed the message “You are in deep shite,” without saying so. Lochlan sighed and answered.
“Chief Constable Brown, first let me say I haven’t slept since this time yesterday.”
“Well, good. Go take a nappy,” Brown said, rather nonchalantly. “The army helicopter won’t be there to pick you and Nathan up till around five.”
“Why on earth would we need that.”
“So we can get you two quickly to Elgin and then onto Haddington.”
“What’s in Elgin?”
“Four dead crows.”
“Four more. Get some sleep. You will definitely need it now. Tuddles.”