All That Lives by James Oswald Exclusive Excerpt
We’re delighted to publish an exclusive excerpt preview from James Oswald’s All That Lives. You can find out more about the book, and enter a competition to win a copy, here.
ALL THAT LIVES
An Inspector McLean Novel by James Oswald
He stands in the half-dark, shadows all around him. Light from the street lamps bounces off the low cloud, diffusing the gloom into something hellish and wrong. This place stinks of piss and despair, the ground littered with the detritus of broken lives. Time was he would have avoided it like the plague. But now, when the rage is upon him and the sheer helplessness, his guilty feet always seem to bring him here. Same as his guilty hand grips the tiny glass bottle tight. Same as his guilty mind craves the oblivion it will bring. For a while, at least.
He hates drugs, always has. Hates what they do to people, how they change them, turn them mean and selfish. He’s seen friends almost kill themselves smoking dope, injecting stuff into their veins, sniffing glue or worse. He’s watched the dealers hanging around the school gates and lurking in the seedier pubs. Seen a few of them off, though he knows better than to mess with those kinds of people. He’s vowed never to get involved in that kind of thing. And yet here he is.
He can’t get the image out of his head. The shock and fear in that young man’s eyes as he lay at the bottom of the pit. Why did he not fight? Why did he not climb out? And why did they all do exactly as they were told. Like zombies, like good little drones. They picked up the spades and shovelled the earth even as the young man begged for them to stop.
Held up to the light, the clear glass bottle shows a pale yellow liquid inside, ready to turn to vapour the moment he snaps off the top. Through it, distorted, he sees the graffiti-painted demon’s head on the broken wall beyond. It laughs at him, eggs him on just as they egged each other on. All under the watchful eyes of their supervisors. Who can dig the fastest? Who can refill the hole quickest?
Not a hole, but a grave. He knows that now, so why couldn’t he see it then? Just an exercise, they said. Team building, training. Brainwashing. Timothy. The young man’s name was Timothy. They picked on him as the weakest. Bullied him. Threw him into the deep pit that they’d dug only hours earlier in the day. And then they shovelled that same dry earth on top of him, spade after spade until poor Timothy was gone. The weight of it dragging him deep into the earth. Covering him, pinning him down, filling his mouth and nose, smothering him as he tried in vain to escape.
He shudders so hard at the memory he almost drops the bottle. Perhaps that would be better. Let it go to waste. Get his head straight. Go to the police. Confess. But he knows he will never do that. They would kill him first, just like poor Timothy. And there are more bottles where this one came from, an endless supply.
He hates drugs, but he is trapped by what he has done. What they made him do. He needs the brief respite the hit will give him, even as he knows the ghost of Timothy will haunt him for ever.
He cracks the bottle. Breathes deep.
The dopplering sound of a passing fire engine assaulted Detective Sergeant Janie Harrison’s ears as she clambered out of the car. Not a great start to the working day. The call had come in as she’d been heading to the canteen for a much-needed coffee, and she had a horrible feeling she was going to regret missing it.
‘What’s the story, John?’ She knew the constable manning the cordon from her own uniform days, standing shoulder to shoulder as they watched the crowd at Meadowbank. She’d escaped this part of the city, and couldn’t say she missed it. Not many did, if the lack of onlookers was anything to go by. There wasn’t a soul to be seen who wasn’t either a police officer or a forensics technician.
‘Young lad by the name of Rory Devlin. Body’s about forty yards away into the rubble there.’ The constable pointed along a marked pathway that ran more or less straight through the derelict remains of an old stone warehouse. Piles of rock, broken up concrete and rusted rebar lay in heaps that looked like someone had once tried to impose some order on the chaos, but if so it had been a long time ago. Scrubby grass poked from every crack in the concrete floor that wasn’t covered in broken glass, rubbish bags, discarded needles and used condoms. A few shrubby bushes sprouted single use carrier bag flowers from every branch.
‘What is this place?’ Janie asked.
‘Used to be a lumber yard, about thirty years back. Least that’s what my sarge told me.’
‘He tell you who found the body?’
‘Aye, some kids playin’ aboot. Should’a bin in school, ken?’
Janie shrugged, only half taking in the information as she looked around the area beyond the derelict warehouse. The bulk of Arthur’s Seat shouldered its way into the low clouds to the south-west, but closer in were drab, low tenements, their windows eyeless sockets on this less favoured area of the city. A few high-rise tower blocks dotted the scene, monuments to the dream of social housing. To the north, she knew, lay the industrial area around Leith Docks, the Firth of Forth and beyond that Fife.
‘Crime Scene Manager’s set up just inside the wall there, ma’am.’
‘Sorry?’ Janie dragged her attention back to the case in hand, once again regretting the lack of coffee and the sleepless night that meant she needed it. ‘Don’t call me ma’am, John. I’m barely a year older than you.’
The constable grinned as he lifted the tape for her to stoop under. ‘Aye, Sarge.’
Janie shook her head in mock disgust, then beckoned her companion over. Detective Constable Cass Mitchell was one of the new intake to Police Scotland’s Edinburgh Major Investigation Teams. She had the makings of a good detective, as far as Janie was concerned. All she needed was to be a bit more assertive. It didn’t help that her tall, slim frame, black skin and short-cropped hair marked her out as something of an oddity among the majority pasty-white inhabitants of the city.
‘Come on, Cass. Let’s go see what all the fuss is about, eh?’
Mitchell nodded, giving PC John a half-smile as he lifted the tape a little higher for her than he had for Janie. They went straight to the nearest forensic service van, struggled into white paper overalls and paper overshoes that didn’t look like they’d last long given the state of the crime scene. Janie signed herself in, handing the clipboard to Mitchell to do the same.
‘That way?’ She pointed towards the centre of the roofless warehouse, receiving a curt nod from the forensic technician as he took back the clipboard. Another one having a bad morning, then.
A white plastic tent had been set up over a patch of broken concrete and scrubby ground beside what must once have been a substantial internal wall. The approach took them past the part of the building that had survived the best, although that only meant the brickwork rose slightly higher than Janie’s head and still had some lime plaster clinging to it like plaque on a rotten tooth. Graffiti covered every exposed surface, layers of it defining the changing years. Janie recognised a few as gang markers, a history of turf warfare in this deprived part of the city. The topmost sigil, and presumably the most recent, was one she’d not seen before though. A stylised devil, with sharp teeth and pointed horns, something like steam or smoke seemed to rise from it as if it had only recently crawled out of hell. Seeing it gave her an involuntary shudder, which didn’t bode well for what was inside the tent.
‘OK to go in?’ she asked of another suited forensic technician standing at the entrance. Like the man with the clipboard, Janie didn’t recognise this one. Not that it was easy once they were fully suited up.
‘Sure. Pathologist’s already in there, mind, so it’s a bit of a squeeze.’
‘I’ll wait, shall I?’ DC Mitchell said. Janie looked to her, the forensic technician and then back the way they had come. Not many SOCOs about, for a dead body.
‘Probably for the best. I’ll give you a shout if I need you to look at something. Meantime get all the details about our Mr Devlin. We’ll need to speak to his next of kin, sort out positive identification. You know the drill.’
Mitchell nodded once, the relief evident on her face. Not her first dead body, Janie knew, but obviously not something she was eager to see. Right then, best get on with it. She grabbed the edge of the flap closing the tent, pulled it open and stepped inside.
The first thing she noticed was the smell. There had been an all too familiar reek about the derelict warehouse, that mixture of rotting garbage, piss and the charred remains of pallet bonfires. Nothing that had set her internal alarms ringing, anyway. Now, Janie felt the scent tickling her sinuses like the onset of hay fever, and bringing with it an almost citrus tang like those little toilet cakes you sometimes found in urinals. Not that she had a great deal of experience of that sort of thing, thank Christ.
‘Detective Sergeant Harrison. What an unexpected delight.’
Distracted by the smell, Janie hadn’t immediately noticed the white-boiler-suited man standing on the far side of the tent. Not like her to be quite so unobservant, although in fairness Angus Cadwallader blended in with the plastic canvas fairly well. Crouched down like a mother tying her wayward child’s shoelace, his assistant, Tracy Sharp, looked around and gave Janie a pained smile. And that was when she finally saw the body.
How she had missed it was beyond her, although a sleepless night and insufficient caffeine might have had something to do with it. He was young, late teens or maybe very early twenties judging by the mottled acne on his face. He wore the standard uniform of all the city’s indigent youth, dark jogging pants, expensive but stained and worn trainers, hoodie zipped up tight to his neck. He lay sprawled on his back, legs bent, arms twisted around at improbable angles, but it was his eyes that made Janie glad she’d missed breakfast. Bulging and bloodshot, they stared up in agony.
‘Dear God. What happened to him?’ She took a step closer, then stopped, turned her attention back to the pathologist. ‘Sorry, Dr Cadwallader, Dr Sharp. It’s good to see you both.’
‘I’ll have to admit he had much the same effect on me when I first saw him, and I’ve had far more experience of cadavers than you, I’d wager. Come.’ The pathologist beckoned Janie closer, crouching down as Dr Sharp moved to make room. Janie wasn’t sure she wanted to get any nearer the body, but this was the job.
‘What happened to him?’
‘And that, my dear, is where you differ from your esteemed colleague Tony McLean. He would ask me immediately for a time of death, even though he knows full well I can’t give him one. It’s his little joke, you see.’ Cadwallader’s smile faded quickly into something more of a frown. ‘Alas, I can’t easily answer your question either. He appears to have suffered multiple injuries consistent with a beating. Certainly the way he’s lying would suggest as much.’
‘I can sense a “but” coming.’ Janie looked more closely at the young man’s body, twisted and bent like something from a car accident.
‘Not so much a “but” as a niggling suspicion all is not as it seems here.’
‘You mean he’s not been beaten to death and thrown out with the trash?’
Cadwallader tilted his head slightly, the closest the man ever came to a shrug in Janie’s experience. ‘He’s dead, most likely from the injuries we can see here. Both his arms are dislocated at the shoulder, judging by the angle they’re lying at. I’d be surprised if he didn’t have fractured ribs, possible fractures to his pelvis, legs. Poor lad’s a mess.’
‘Certainly seems to have been in a great deal of pain.’ Janie risked another look at the dead man’s agonised face, and then she saw what she’d missed earlier. ‘But nobody touched his head. No split lip, no bruised cheeks, no broken nose.’ And it wasn’t as if his eyes were swollen shut either, quite the opposite.
‘I’ve seen punishment beatings where they’ve left the victim’s face untouched before,’ Cadwallader said. ‘Usually that’s a pimp taking out his anger on a sex worker though.’
‘You think he might have been …?’ Janie started to ask the question, then shook her head to dismiss it. Yes, the city had its fair share of male sex workers, rent boys and the like, but violence meted out on them tended to focus on the head rather than avoid it. Still, it would be worth having a chat with DCI Dexter, if only on the off-chance the whole investigation could be passed over to vice.
‘That’s for you to find out, I think.’ Cadwallader bent down with much creaking of joints, then pointed his gloved hand at the torso. ‘I’m not sure what to make of the state of his clothes, though.’
Janie focused once more on the hoodie, a glimpse of T-shirt at the neck. The sweat pants and those once-expensive trainers. ‘They’re surprisingly clean.’
‘Quite so. You might think that he’d been beaten up elsewhere and then dumped here, but if you have a look underneath.’ Cadwallader nodded to his assistant and together they gently rolled the body enough for Janie to get a glimpse. Where the material of the hoodie was clean at the front, the back was both ingrained with the dirt from the derelict warehouse site, and ripped right through to pale skin.
‘Could that come from, I don’t know, throwing him to the ground?’ She looked around the tent, taking in the jumble of detritus on the floor. No obvious difference to the detritus everywhere else.
‘Possible, but it seems excessive.’
As they let the body back down again, it groaned like an old man reaching for the floor. Janie almost jumped back in shock, then noticed that strange chemical lemon reek again.
‘What is that smell?’
Cadwallader sniffed, leaned in close to the dead man’s face and sniffed again. ‘I’m not sure. Not yet, at least. It’s coming from him though. Possibly something he ate. We’ll know better once I’ve done the post-mortem. I’ll prioritise it, since this is most certainly suspicious, and not a little odd.’
Janie grimaced. Odd seemed to be her stock-in-trade these days. The perils of working with Detective Inspector McLean.
‘Just as well the boss is on his way then.’
It wasn’t the most efficient way of getting around the city, but Detective Inspector McLean liked to walk whenever he could. The rhythm of his feet on the pavement helped him think, and the time away from his desk meant fewer distractions. That he still hadn’t managed to replace his old Alfa Romeo after it had been stolen and crashed might have had something to do with it too, although this time he had cadged a lift in a squad car most of the way to the crime scene.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d visited this part of the city; a few years at least. The fronts of the tenements still bore the blackened soot from coal fires that had gone out a half-century earlier, and the whole area felt run down. Even so, here and there the signs of encroaching development showed that Edinburgh’s demand for housing was as insatiable as ever. How long before the old lumber yard became a modern, and expensive, apartment block? McLean wasn’t entirely sure why it hadn’t already.
‘MacNaughton’s Timber. I remember when this place was still trading,’ he said to the young uniform constable manning the cordon as he showed his warrant card.
‘Been derelict as long as I’ve known it, sir.’
McLean chose to take that as an innocent response, rather than a criticism of his advanced years. Ducking under the tape, he headed for the yard entrance, where a cluster of officers and forensic technicians were deep in conversation. By the time he’d signed in, pulled on paper overalls, and followed the marked path to where he was told the body lay, the pathologist and his assistant were both standing outside the small plastic tent, talking to DS Harrison.
‘Morning, Tony.’ Cadwallader greeted him first. ‘I’m afraid young Janie’s beaten you to it.’
‘Sir.’ Harrison ducked her head in that way she had. Not quite a nod, neither a shrug.
‘What’s the story then?’
‘Young man by the name of Rory Devlin. Looks to have been beaten up and dumped. It’s … He’s not a pretty sight.’
McLean looked down at the ground, strewn with rubbish. He could see needles and the odd condom in amongst the empty plastic cider bottles and crushed Special Brew tins. ‘Junkie?’
‘Hard to say.’ The pathologist waved an open hand at the entrance to the tent. ‘Maybe best if you look for yourself.’
McLean had known he would have to, but that didn’t make it any less unpleasant a task. He pulled back the entrance flap and stepped inside, Cadwallader following behind.
The first thing he noticed was the smell, a sour mixture of rubbish, ordure and, over the top of everything else, a strange chemical citrus tang. It dissipated quickly in the airflow from the opening, becoming little more than a vague memory as McLean concentrated on the body. Harrison had been accurate in her description, the young man’s twisted and broken limbs screaming of a painful end. At least there wasn’t any blood.
‘If he’s been beaten up, then they deliberately avoided his face.’ Cadwallader trod a careful path around the corpse until he was at the head, then crouched down. McLean bent forward a little, but felt no need to get any closer than he already had.
‘Time of death?’ he asked, and saw the twitch of a smile on his old friend’s face.
‘I’d have thought you’d be more interested in cause,’ the pathologist said. ‘That’ll have to wait for the post-mortem though. Like I said to Janie out there, it looks like a beating gone too far, but there’s a few things I need to examine more closely to be sure.’
McLean straightened up, his back creaking with the effort. The dead man certainly looked like he’d been mangled and then thrown out with the trash. Not much consolation for Rory Devlin, but a simple gangland turf war beating gone too far would keep the senior officers and bean counters happy, even if finding out whoever was responsible might prove tricky. Why then did he feel like this was only the beginning of something much more complicated?
‘Let me know when you’re doing the PM then, Angus.’
‘Will do. Should be able to fit him in quite soon.’
‘Thanks.’ He turned away from the body, pushed open the entrance flap and breathed in the relatively fresh air from outside. ‘Guess I’d better go and inform the family then.’
According to the records they’d managed to find so far, Rory Devlin was nineteen years old and lived in a semi-detached bungalow on the northern edge of Restalrig. Not far from where the body had been found, it was nevertheless too far to walk, especially given the threat of rain in the air. Leaving DC Mitchell with the crime scene team, Harrison drove them in the silent electric Nissan pool car that was the butt of many a station joke but surprisingly comfortable nonetheless. They parked across the street and stared out at the unremarkable house for a moment. Neat, quiet, not the best suburb but a far cry from the derelict lumber yard.
‘You get any answer from Family Liaison about sending out an officer?’ McLean asked as Harrison unclipped her seatbelt and reached for the door handle.
‘Aye, they said someone would be here in half an hour, an’ that was forty minutes ago.’
McLean shrugged. Everyone was busy, overworked, overstretched. ‘Might as well get started then. Soonest is always best when breaking bad news.’
A girl of maybe sixteen opened the door a few moments after he’d pressed the doorbell, her eyes narrowing in a suspicious glare. That same look he’d seen on countless others down the years; the scowl that said you’d better have a good reason for this unwarranted disturbance.
‘I’m looking for Mrs Elizabeth Devlin?’ McLean went to pull out his warrant card, but before he had the chance, the girl turned and shouted ‘Mum!’ loud enough to wake the dead.
‘Who’re youse?’ she asked once she was done with that.
‘Detective Inspector McLean. This is my colleague Detective Sergeant Harrison. Would I be right in thinking this is the home of Rory Devlin?’
‘What’s that waster gone an’ done now?’ The girl raised her eyes to the heavens, but before she could say any more, an older version of her appeared in the doorway, drying her hands on a dishcloth. She took the two detectives in with a single, sweeping gaze.
‘Did you say this was about Rory?’ she asked.
‘Are you Mrs Devlin?’ McLean countered.
‘Aye, I’m his mum. What’s this …’ And then the penny dropped. McLean had seen it all too many times before, much like the scathing contempt. The dull realisation that there were two police officers at the door, in the middle of the day, asking about a member of the family. That could never be good news.
‘Perhaps we might come in?’
Mrs Devlin opened the door a little wider, almost tripping over her daughter who was standing right behind her.
‘Away to your room, Maggie,’ she shouted, shooing the girl away with the dishcloth.
‘I’m no’ a bairn, Mum,’ the girl complained.
‘Aye, well act your age and do as you’re told.’
The girl flounced away, stomped up a narrow set of stairs that must lead to a dormer room at the back of the bungalow. Moments later McLean heard the slam of a door.
‘Teenagers.’ Mrs Devlin rolled her eyes, indicating with her free hand for them to follow her into the house. She led them to a compact living room at the back, looking out over a short garden that appeared to open onto parkland. It took McLean a moment to get his bearings, but it must have been Craigentinny Golf Course, which would have added a sizeable chunk to the value of the house.
‘Perhaps you’d like to sit down, Mrs Devlin,’ McLean said before she could get out the question she no doubt wanted to ask. Worry painted her face in lines, and she was twisting the dishcloth between her hands as if it was a chicken to be killed for the pot. She did as she was told, and McLean sat on the small sofa beside her.
‘Your son, Rory. Have you seen him recently?’
‘He went out last night, about ten, mebbe? Din’t come home, but then that’s no’ unusual. Why? What’s he done?’
‘I’m very sorry, Mrs Devlin. There’s no easy way to put this. We discovered the body of a young man in some waste ground near Restalrig Road first thing this morning. We have reason to believe he is your son.’ McLean nodded at Harrison, who was still standing. She tapped the screen of her phone to bring up the photograph. It showed only the young man’s head, and after the pathologist had closed his bulging, bloodshot eyes, but there was no hiding the fact it was a dead person.
‘Is this Rory, Mrs Devlin?’ she asked, her voice as sympathetic as McLean had ever heard it. The woman stared at the picture for a moment, reached towards the phone as if to take it. Then her hand withdrew like she’d been stung, and she crammed it into her mouth. Tears glistened in her eyes.
‘My … My boy.’ It came out as a wail of pure anguish. More than enough confirmation for now, although they would have to arrange for a formal identification soon. Something for the Family Liaison Officer to sort out when they finally arrived. McLean scanned the room, his eyes coming to rest on the mantelpiece and a collection of family photographs. Even from where he sat he could see plenty that included a Mr Devlin, and a few of a younger Rory too.
‘Is your husband at work?’ He pulled out his own phone. ‘I can call him for you.’
The words seemed to bring Mrs Devlin back to her senses. She dabbed at her eyes with the dishcloth, took one last look at the image on Harrison’s phone and then waved it away before fixing McLean with a glare that could strip paint.
‘What happened to him? What did youse do to him?’
‘We don’t know exactly what happened yet. He was only found a few hours ago. We’re working on the theory that he was mugged. Do you know any reason why someone might do that?’
McLean knew he was on thin ice asking. Mrs Devlin had the pale face and rabbit in the headlights stare of someone going into shock. He should really be trying to get in touch with her husband, and maybe he should have waited for the Family Liaison Officer before even knocking on the door. On the other hand, a young man was dead and every minute that passed decreased the likelihood of finding whoever might be responsible for that. If it wasn’t the young man himself, of course.
‘I … I need to call my husband.’ McLean’s initial offer to do the same had finally worked its way into Mrs Devlin’s conscious thoughts. A task she could fixate upon.
‘Would you like me to do that?’ he asked again. ‘I’ll need his number.’
A brief pause, and then Mrs Devlin shook her head. ‘He’ll be driving the bus right now. No phones while you’re on shift.’
‘He’s a bus driver?’ McLean slipped his phone away, took out his notepad. ‘If you let me know the details, I’ll have an officer contact the depot. Given the circumstances, I’m sure they’ll arrange a replacement driver and we can get him home as quickly as possible.’
McLean settled into the chair behind his desk with a weary sigh and a creak of un-oiled springs. Through the glass wall, he could see across the rooftops towards Arthur’s Seat, still shrouded in grey cloud. Summer had been long and hot, the city a sweltering, stinking mess. But recently the wind had taken on an edge, like a mugger after your best coat. The light had that autumn hue to it that meant winter was on its way, and a hard winter at that. Not that there was ever a good time to investigate an unexplained death, but this surely wasn’t it.
The initial report into Rory Devlin’s sorry end lay on the desk in front of him. Much of the legwork had been done swiftly, a testament to DS Harrison’s efficiency. As predicted, the door-to-door interviews had yielded nothing, and that part of town wasn’t exactly well covered with CCTV. If someone had beaten up the young man and then dumped him, then it would be up to forensics to provide any clues they could find. McLean didn’t hold out any great hopes there. Something else bothered him about the whole thing, though. It didn’t sit right, and having had twenty-four hours to think, he still couldn’t put a finger on why.
‘Penny for your thoughts?’
He looked up to the open doorway, where Detective Superintendent Jayne McIntyre stood, one arm leaning against the frame. She’d gone very grey in the past year, no doubt exacerbated by her sudden and unexpected promotion to station chief. Although promotion wasn’t really the word for it. More having the responsibility dumped on her shoulders until such time as a replacement could be found for Chief Superintendent Elmwood.
‘I doubt they’re worth half as much.’ He stood up, indicating they both sit at the conference table on the other side of the office. As he poured coffee, McLean told her about his misgivings.
‘Drug overdose would be the better option,’ he said as McIntyre sipped her coffee. ‘Not for the poor lad, of course, but at least it’s a simple report to the PF and on to the next job.’
‘But you don’t think that’s what this is.’ The detective superintendent didn’t even bother with making it a question. How well she knew him.
‘My instinct tells me no. I mean, there’s drugs involved, for sure. But not your usual kind. Until we know what actually killed him and when, there’s not much we can do. I’m waiting to see what Angus comes up with. Can’t help thinking this is going to be a difficult one, though.’
Now McIntyre grimaced, and McLean couldn’t help noticing that it wasn’t at the coffee.
‘Well, I’ve some news you may or may not want to hear, then.’
‘Oh yes? Have they finally decided on a new station chief?’ He couldn’t think of anything else that would warrant this kind of meeting. Not that it wasn’t always nice to have a quiet chat.
‘In a manner of speaking.’
‘That doesn’t sound good.’
‘Well, it depends on your point of view. They’ve decided that since I’ve done such a good job these past few months they’re going to make my position official. I get to be a chief super once the paperwork’s done, which is nice. Can’t say the extra money won’t help either, now that Susan’s not working.’
McLean recalled McIntyre’s partner and her long struggle with cancer. The last time they’d met he’d been impressed with her strength of will, but he knew well enough that could have been a front to hide the pain and exhaustion within. It wasn’t as if he was a stranger to such play-acting himself.
‘Congratulations. You deserve far more for what you’ve had to put up with.’ He didn’t add, ‘me, for one thing.’
‘Yes, well. Before you break out the celebratory champagne, there’s a little catch.’
He’d known there would be. There always was.
‘The position is only part time. A job share, as it were.’ McIntyre put considerable venom into the phrase, although whether it was because of the half-hearted promotion or whoever it was she would have to share the position with, McLean wasn’t sure. A bit of both, probably. Which begged the obvious question.
‘So who gets to share your desk then?’
Even as he asked it, he knew. As if a window had opened into the detective superintendent’s mind and he could see her thoughts as clear as day.
‘Chief Superintendent Elmwood has been given the all clear by her doctors. She’ll be starting again at the beginning of next week.’
‘Really? After what happened to her? I thought burns took years to heal.’ And never mind the mental scars from being tied up in a makeshift pyre by some lunatic extremist men’s rights activist determined to burn her as a witch.
‘Well, apparently she’s had some experimental new treatment, and I have to say it’s worked well. You’d not know what happened to look at her.’
‘Experimental? How did she get picked for that?’ McLean heard the criticism in his voice as the words came out, and added: ‘not that she doesn’t deserve it as much as anyone, of course.’ Which only made it worse.
‘That’s all down to Jane Louise Dee,’ McIntyre said, and McLean decided maybe his criticism was deserved after all.
‘What’s she got to do with it?’
‘It’s her medical research facility that has been working on the therapy, for one thing. And apparently she and Gail had become friends before … what happened.’ McIntyre’s face was a picture of disbelief that must have mirrored McLean’s own. ‘I know. Surprised me too. It’s all academic anyway. She’ll be back at work part-time on Monday, so you’ve got the weekend to get yourself prepared.’
The city mortuary had always been a place of strange refuge for McLean. His grandmother had worked there as senior pathologist for years and had never felt shy about bringing her grandson and ward to work if it was inconvenient to leave him at home. It was probably there that he’d first thought about becoming a police officer, rather than following his grandmother into medicine or his long-dead father into law. Now, as he pushed through the entrance door and was buzzed in by the receptionist without a second glance, he felt some semblance of calm begin to fall.
It probably shouldn’t have been a huge surprise that Elmwood was returning to work. The allegation that she might have murdered her former lover had dissolved away like a Forth haar in the sun after she’d become the victim of a savage attack. More surprising, and alarming, was her relationship with Jane Louise Dee. If Elmwood was single-minded in her determination to succeed, it was nothing compared to Dee. The two of them together could mean nothing good. Not for Police Scotland, and certainly not for him.
‘Ah, Tony. You got my email then.’
Angus Cadwallader’s voice broke through McLean’s meandering thoughts, and for a moment he couldn’t quite work out how he’d come to be in the examination theatre.
‘Actually, no. Sorry, Angus. I needed to get out of the station, and this seemed like the obvious place to come.’
The central table was occupied by a pasty-white cadaver, partially covered with a sheet to hide its modesty. He recognised the young man from the derelict lumber yard. Sudden, violent and inexplicable death would always jump the queue for post-mortem examination.
‘Bad news?’ the pathologist asked.
‘Unwelcome, for sure. Bad? I couldn’t really say.’ McLean told his old friend all he had learned from McIntyre earlier. Cadwallader’s face turned ever more sombre as the tale unfolded, although he was wise enough to make no comment.
‘Was this what you wanted to talk to me about, then?’ McLean gestured towards the young man, his face less harrowing now than when he’d seen it first, but alarming nonetheless. Dark pink acne spots and scars flecked his deathly cheeks, making him seem even younger than his actual nineteen years.
‘Indeed it was. Interesting and disturbing. We thought maybe he’d been beaten up, you’ll recall.’
McLean did, and that still seemed the obvious conclusion. He’d learned over a long career that obvious was often both misleading and wrong.
‘Well, I’m beginning to revise my opinion now that I’ve had a good look at him.’ Cadwallader moved around the table so that he was standing opposite McLean, reached down and picked up the young man’s arm by the wrist and elbow.
‘He has fractures in his arms, and both of his shoulders are dislocated. Those injuries don’t match up with the bruising though, at least not well enough.’
‘You’re suggesting he did this to himself? Some kind of … What? Epileptic fit? Is that even possible?’
The pathologist smiled as if McLean were a poor student unexpectedly coming up with the right answer to a trick question.
‘Not impossible, Tony. My initial conclusion is he’s had a fit so violent it’s torn his muscles and tendons, broken bones and then killed him. But this young man has no history of epilepsy. There was this found in his clothing though.’ Cadwallader left the examination table and crossed the room to the counter that ran along one wall. A clear plastic evidence bag lay on a tray and he brought both back for McLean to see. A few fragments of thin, medical-grade glass.
‘Forensics found the remains of an ampoule on the ground close by him. Manda Parsons has taken it off for analysis to see if we can work out what was in it. I’ll send her these pieces and she can see if they fit.’
McLean looked from the bag back down to the twisted body. ‘I’ve never seen poppers do something like that though.’
‘Poppers? How quaint.’ Cadwallader shook his head slowly. ‘No, Tony. This is merely a delivery device. I very much doubt Mr Devlin here was sniffing amyl nitrate.’
‘Something new then? But even so.’ McLean gestured at the body. ‘Could sniffing something really cause this kind of damage?’
‘That depends entirely on what the ampoule contained. Hopefully Manda will come up with something, but we’ll do a full tox screen on his blood and the contents of his stomach, too. Soon as we’ve opened him up.’
Cadwallader returned the tray and evidence bag to the counter. ‘I’m going to have a wee look at his brain too. Get some fluid from that for tests. I know you’re not so keen on the saw.’
McLean knew a dismissal when he heard one, and his old friend had the truth of it. He wasn’t exactly squeamish, hard to be when his grandmother had been a pathologist for the city for most of her career. More he didn’t exactly relish the thought of watching a person being cut up. He was even OK with seeing the results, but not the procedure that led to them.
‘Let me know how you get on then, Angus.’ He began to turn away, then stopped himself for a moment. ‘And thanks. I think. I had a suspicion this case was going to be a headache. Nice to have that confirmed, I guess.’
All That Lives will be published 17th February 2022
Pre-order your copy here.