It was about ten in the morning when Lochlan asked Colonel Taggart if he could borrow his car for a short trip south. He called it a “business” trip but he didn’t lie. He had business with both ladies at that house; one funny and one not so funny. Taggart showed him all the finer technological devices his Rolls Royce was complimented with everywhere there was space on the dashboard. Then, Lochlan had a thought.
Do I want to take Nanna on all alone? I wonder if Kenna is there Yet?
“Colonel, do you have Google Maps available?” he asked.
“Why Aye I do,” Taggart said proudly. “Mine can pick up a gnat riding on a flies’ arse from thirty thousand feet. Why do you ask?”
“I just want to check and see if my source is at out meeting place Yet. Please, try this address.”
Taggart typed in 112 Clyde River Road, Newtonmore and in two seconds Lochlan was looking at his mark. The driveway was empty.
“Let’s go in and have another cuppa. They’re not there Yet,” Lochlan said, opening the passenger door.
“Any more tea, and this ole’ man will need a nap.”
“Did you ever think of drinking just plain straight tea?” Lochlan asked.
“Never. Go on in. I’ll be there in a minute.”
As they waited, Lochlan told his partner what they just did.
“You can do the same thing, Guvnor, with your smart phone,” Nathan answered.
“Aye, so here’s my smartarse phone. Dazzle me.”
Within the bat of a yak’s eyelash Lochlan was looking at Nanna’s house again, and just in time to see Kenna’s Volvo pull in.
“I must be off, mateys. I’ll be back at three.”
Lochlan sat in the Rolls, surveying all the gadgets on the console and wonder how long he’d have to work before he could have such a luxurious ride. Then he realized Taggart had to work hand in hand with MI 6 and decided to stay at his rate of pay for a while.
Charlotte Ann Mackenzie was born October 18, 1927 in the village of Biallard, a small sheep-raising community two kilometers south of Newtonmore. During WW II she accompanied her mam at the Scottish Women’s Voluntary Service and was very helpful. She was short, thin and was a message courier delivering correspondence between buildings during the blackout nights when England, and parts of Scotland, were bombed by the Luftwaffe. She married Amos Mackenzie in 1946 after his stint with the Highlander Division in the European Theatre.
Their union lasted sixty years until Amos succumbed to sugar diabetes in 2016 which she blamed on his love of chocolate delivered to him weekly in the form of 5th Avenue and O’Henry candy bars. The Americans killed her Amos, or so she said whenever the subject came up. Therefore, the last three years in her croft was of the sugar free persuasion and woe be it to the man or woman who tried to defy that. Knowing this, Lochlan placed his Reese Cups in the glove box of the Rolls, approached her front door and quietly knocked.
“Yesss!?” was her greeting upon seeing her visitor. Lochlan knew he was going to get his balls busted by her, so he kept his demeanor cool but respectful
“Why, Charlotte. Don’t you look fit as an Irishman’s fiddle today.”
“Aye I do. And you can leave your bullshite on my doorstep. C’mon in, my favorite grand daughter is waiting for you, although for the life of me I don’t know why.”
Lochlan stepped in and walked two steps behind her. There, at the kitchen table sat Kenna, doing her best not to laugh.
Why is it, whenever a lady slams my clam, the whole feminine world is amused?
“Afternoon,” Lochlan to Kenna . He moved to hug Charlotte, but she disarmed him immediately as she sniffed his person.
“You smell of sugar, mister. Do I have to frisk you, or are you ready to comply with my house rules?”
“I swear on the souls of me grandchildren, if we ever have any, there is not candy nor sugar anywhere on my person,” he said as he raised his right hand to the clouds.
“Alrighty then. Come in and wipe your feet. The kettle is already on.”
Just to show her contempt for him, she said all that as she was walking away.
Lochlan sat down and put his briefcase on the floor beside him. They all had a round of delightful-tasting tea and a little small talk. There was a lull in the conversation, then Charlotte brought the meeting to order.
“Lochlan. Your wife tells me you are on a very perplexing case. She has told me some of the details but I know, by the size of your attaché, there’s more to reveal. Now, proceed with the facts at hand. Do not leave anything to wonder. I must know all.”
“As you wish,” Lochlan said as he placed the photos of each dead man before her, leaving nothing to the imagination. Kenna stood and moved behind her Nanna and gasped when she saw the inhumane images. Charlotte was calm and silent when she scanned them, as if this didn’t bother her at all.
“Now show me just pictures of the crows,” Charlotte said.
Lochlan produced the photos, laying them before her one by one.
Oh Dear Lord. Please give her the knowledge to decipher this. I am at a loss.
“How were the crows pinned to the ground?” she asked.
“With common everyday nails, about eight centimeters long.”
“Were there any markings on the bodies?”
“None at all.” Lochlan answered.
She sat back in her chair, sighed and took another drink of tea. “If there was a certain crest of sorts visible I could tell you the meaning of this, but I am reluctant to say any more.”
Lochlan sat down, and then he sighed. He felt ashamed of himself. His completion rate of murder cases was beyond reproach, but he felt like a failure. Just as he was about to collect his things, Charlotte perked up.
“Was there any writing or a stamp of sorts on the nail heads?” she asked.
Another bulb lit Lochlan’s brain on fire.
“I don’t know that, Nanna. But I can find out quickly.”
He pulled out his cell and called his partner. “Nathan. Tell me if Sanjay is there Yet.”
“Aye, Guvnor. He’s in his van sitting outside like his usual hermit self.”
Sanjay Gupta was an immigrant from India and was now a naturalized citizen. He was very short, thin as the average crepe and had brains coming out of his ears. There was nothing this man didn’t know about anything technological. He was also a smartarse.
“Sanjay,” Lochlan overheard Nathan say. “CI Kincaid wants you to look at those nails from the crime scene.”
“ I don’t know no Kincaid fella. Tell him people in Bombay want ice water, but I can’t supply that either.”
“Did you hear that boss?” Nathan asked.
“Loud and clear. Tell him I know all about his recent trip to Glasgow.”
“Sanjay. CI Kincaid says he knows all about Glasgow, and he’s gonna tell your mam.”
Nathan was becoming quite the impresario and that seemed to work on Sanjay’s attitude. In a few nanoseconds he grabbed the phone from Nathan.
“Chief Inspector Kincaid. What a pleasure it is to speak to you,” he said, humbly.
“Cut the shite, Sanjay. Just look at the heads of the nails for me with your electron … whatever that thing is called. And do it pronto. I’ve got your mam’s home phone number written down here on my palm.”
Lochlan heard a scurrying of footsteps, a few moments of silence and then a very loud “OH HOLY SHITE!!” coming from the van.
“Mr. Kincaid,” Sanjay said, nearly out of breath. “You will not believe what I found.”
“Try me, laddie.”
“There is a … lion stamped on the heads. It’s upright with what looks like weapons in its front paws. Do you understand this?”
“No, not Yet, but I will before the day is out. Now, do not tell anyone about this before the meeting today. Do we have a deal?”
“Do you still have my momma’s number in your hand?”
“Aye I do. But, I will wash them as soon as I get back. Let me talk to Nathan.”
He told him he’d be back by three.
Lochlan calmly sat back down at the table and lit a cigarette. Taking a breath, he addressed Charlotte in a certain manner of respect, something he’d never done before.
“Grandmother Mackenzie. I have an answer. Stamped on the nail heads is some kind of lion, poised to fight. Can you decode this for me and mine?”
“I may,” she said as she sat back, folding her arms and trying not to smile. “But, it will cost you.”
She’s got me now. What else can I do but cave?
“You name it and I’ll accept it.”
“I have been trying to get you to learn the Gaelic language and our culture for some twenty years now, so here is my condition. I will expect to see you on the third Wednesday of every month, here of course. We will start at seven o’clock pm and cease at nine. There can be no excuses for your absence.”
“I can see your side of this but I am a police officer. I investigate murders and may not be able to drop what I’m doing and be here. I could, though, have my partner call you considering the fact you’ll never believe me.”
“Not your mate,” she said, emphatically.
“Because he will lie for you. You coppers cover each other’s arses all the time. I want your commanding officer’s name and number, both home and mobile, and want him to call me if you need to reschedule. This, considering your past behavior, is not negotiable. I need pinched.”
Lochlan looked at his wife. “I told her a long time ago about your nightly constitutional,” she said sheepishly. “Sorry.”
It was now around two o’clock and he knew he’d have to deal with her. He pulled out his flask and proceeded to pour some scotch in her teacup. She intercepted the shiny vessel, took a two-second swig and then poured a capful in her brew. Lochlan sat back and knew it was now or never.
“It will be as you demand. Now, pray tell, what does this mean?”
The matriarch of the family took a deep breath and began.
“In times past, much superstition was placed upon the crow. Mostly, it was considered a harbinger of evil or hard times for certain people. But, the presence of a dead crow anywhere close to a newly discovered dead body means the end of bad things and the beginning of all things new and good. It is my suggestion these four men were into something deemed loathsome by the person, or persons, who planned and caused their demise. This is my theory. I hope it helps you.”
Lochlan sat stunned at Charlotte’s interpretation; her style and presentation. He knew then he’d misjudged her all these past years, and a new-found respect for her was obtained. Yet, he thought hard about his next revelation, something he’d shared with no one, even his wife.
Should I tell her about my stupid dream? Freud said dreams mean something. Oh, what the hell. Out with it.
“Charlotte, I must take you into my confidence. Last night I had a dream—no, a nightmare—involving two men who looked like some sort of priests. They were about to set fire—for a sacrifice, I assume—to a young girl and boy when a mighty Highlander warrior appeared with sword in hand. He slew the priests and freed the children. Then he stood in the middle of them, placed his hands on their shoulders and said something I don’t understand. I think it was Gaelic, but I’m not sure and this is my shortcoming. I will rectify that at the parleyed Wednesday.”
“What did he say?” Charlotte asked.
“Something that sounded like … Dìonaidh mi seo!”
Her whole personage changed immediately. From her sudden shortness of breath to the tear coming from one eye, she was not as before. With her chin in her hand, she dropped her look to the floor.
“Oh my, oh … my,” she said. “You call yourself a Kincaid, and you do not recognize this? He said, ‘This I will defend’! That is your clan motto. Shame, shame. You have come across something unimaginable in a decent human’s eye and understanding. Those four men—no, animals!—have been a party to the torture and degradation of our innocent ones. I fear not only here, but the world as well. Someone—I suspect God Himself—has charged you with an honorable task. Those responsible for this crime against our humanity are crafty people and your life, and that of everyone else connected to this case, may be in danger. They kill at will, and weep for no one. My prayers will be with you, but now you must go and take this knowledge to your people and do your mightiest to make them understand that justice has to be done. I bid you God speed.”
Lochlan, for the first time, hugged Charlotte and kissed her on her forehead. She asked if he’d be spending the night. He said Aye, but it’d be late. Then he gave her his flask and a card with a name and two numbers written down. He mentioned she might need a little ‘Pinch’ to help her sleep after such a harrowing day. She graciously accepted the offer. He gave Kenna a goodbyou kiss with the promise he’d be back sometime that night..
He said that with a wink of one eye.
Lochlan drove as fast as he could back to the hotel. At five minute till three he pulled in the parking lot only to see Nathan standing outside; smoking a fag and pointing to his watch. Lochlan pulled a business card out, wrote a phone number down, and walked to his partner.
“What the hell is this?” Nathan asked.
“I need for you to do me a great favor. When that number comes up on your Caller ID, you will present yourself as Constable Brown, and tell this kind and elderly lady why I couldn’t make the language lesson.”
Nathan looked his mentor with a wild stare. “Then if I do this for you, you owe me a big one.”
“I’ll owe you two,” Lochlan said. “I gave her your home phone number too. I’ll explain later. Let’s go.”
Walking into the conference room, Lochlan had a sudden rush of Senryu inspiration.
To all we welcome
This task will burden us all
The guilty will fall