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Authors: M. C. Beaton

Death of a Liar

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This book is dedicated to my friend Cheryl Price; her father, Malcolm; mother, Jenny; brother, Rupert; nephew, Jack; and boyfriend, Ben Sawbridge.

Then one day there really was a wolf, but when the boy shouted they didn't believe him.

—Aesop

Police Sergeant Hamish Macbeth and his sidekick, Dick Fraser, sat in deck chairs in the front garden of the police station enjoying the Indian summer and the fact that the county of Sutherland in the very north of Scotland seemed free of crime.

At Hamish's feet lay his wild cat, Sonsie, and his dog, Lugs, as lazy as their master. The berries on the rowan tree at the gate gleamed as red as Hamish's hair.

The air had that clear, sparkling quality as there was no pollution. The sky was blue, the sun shone down, and Dick folded his chubby hands across his plump stomach and fell asleep.

The sudden shrilling of the phone inside the police station cut through the air. Hamish went in to answer it, not expecting anything important, for what nasty thing could happen on such a lovely day?

At first he could not make out what the woman on the line was saying.

“Calm down,” said Hamish in his soft highland accent. “Take a deep breath. Now, what's happened?”

“It's me, Liz Bentley, at Cromish. I've been raped. Oh, help me!”

“I'll be with you as fast as I can,” said Hamish.

He went into the garden and roused Dick. “Some woman up at Cromish says she's been raped. Let's go.”

Soon Hamish, Dick, and the animals were all in the police Land Rover and heading out of Lochdubh and up the west coast of Sutherland to Cromish.

It was a long drive, the village of Cromish being situated between Kinlochbervie and Cape Wrath. Sutherland, the south land of the Vikings, covers three hundred thirty-five square kilometres but has a population of only thirteen thousand people, making it one of the most sparsely populated areas in the United Kingdom.

There are villages like Cromish which look as if time had forgotten them. The fishing boom had come and gone, leaving only a small huddled group of cottages beside a crumbling harbour. The mountains of Foinaven, Arkle, and Ben Stack loomed in the distance. Like Lochdubh, it boasted only one shop, a post office, and a general store, run, as Hamish remembered, by an old woman.

They quickly found Liz Bentley's address. She was a short woman with rosy cheeks and brown hair. When she saw Hamish, she threw herself into his arms and began to cry.

“There, there, lassie,” said Hamish, although Liz was somewhere, he guessed, in her fifties. “Let's go ben and tell me about it. Make us some tea, Dick.”

He settled her down in an armchair and waited until she had dried her eyes. “Now, first, have you called the doctor?”

“No, why?”

“You'll need to be examined and then you'll have to go to hospital where they'll take a swab for DNA.”

“It won't do any good,” she said. “I was that shamed and disgusted, I burnt my clothes and took a swim in the sea.”

“Nonetheless, you'll need to be examined for signs of rape. What is the local doctor's name?”

“Dr. Williams.”

“Number?”

“It's on the wall by the phone, but he's awfy busy and…”

Hamish ignored her, phoned the doctor, and explained it was an emergency. The doctor said he would be there right away.

“So,” said Hamish, returning to her. “Tell me what happened. What did he look like?”

“I couldnae see his face. He had a black balaclava on. He was awfy tall and strong. He threw me to the floor and held a knife to my throat.”

“And when did this happen?”

“Last night. About midnight. I hadn't locked the door.”

“Why didn't you report it sooner?”

“He said if I called the police, he would murder me!”

Dick came in with a mug of tea which he handed to Liz. The doorbell rang. “That'll be the doctor,” said Hamish.

Dr. Williams was a small, gnarled man with a sagging grey face. “Let's go into the bedroom, Liz,” he said.

“I'm not up to it!” wailed Liz.

“Now, then, I haven't got a case if you won't help me,” said Hamish. “Off you go.”

As Liz was reluctantly led off to the bedroom, Hamish looked around the room. It showed all the signs of that old-fashioned practice of “being kept for best.”

The fireplace was empty. Above it hung a gilt-framed mirror. The sofa was an antique one, stuffed with horsehair but looking as new as it had probably done a hundred years before. A table by the window was covered with an embroidered cloth and had a shiny aspidistra in a brass bowl. There were two armchairs, covered in chintz. On an occasional table, a pink china lady held up a pink frilled lamp shade.

Hamish strolled outside and let the dog and cat out of the Land Rover. He would wait for the doctor's report and then question the villagers to see if they had noticed any stranger in the area.

“Officer!”

Hamish swung round. Dr. Williams came up to him.

“I'm afraid you have had a wasted journey.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because Liz Bentley is a virgin, that's what. Furthermore, she's a chronic liar. Last year, she told everyone she had terminal cancer when I was away on holiday. The villagers were so sympathetic they gave her little gifts. I soon discovered when I came back that it was all lies. She said she was attending the hospital at Strathbane for chemotherapy. I phoned them up and they'd never heard of her. When I challenged her, she said it was a miracle. She had prayed and prayed and God had taken the cancer away.”

“I'll chust be having a wee word with her,” said Hamish, the sudden sibilance of his accent showing he was really angry.

He strode into the parlour where Liz was sobbing on Dick's bosom.

“She's a damn liar,” said Hamish. “Leave her alone. Stop the waterworks, Liz, and hear this. I should charge you with wasting police time and get you to pay for the petrol it cost to get here. I suggest you start to see a psychiatrist. Don't effer dare phone me again. Come on, Dick.”

  

“It's called Munchausen syndrome,” said Dick as they drove off. “You know, it's where a body keeps lying to get attention. I mind a case in Strathbane where a woman kept making her children sick so that everyone would sympathise with her.”

“Pah!” said Hamish. “Let's find somewhere to eat.”

They stopped at the Kinlochbervie Hotel and had a pleasant lunch in the bistro.

“It's a sad thing to have a mental problem like that,” said Dick. “I mean, they cannae stop.”

“Do you mean that damn woman is going to plague us with another lie?” said Hamish.

“She'll probably make herself ill or something.”

  

But Lochdubh, during the next week, settled down into its peaceful ways. The only great change in the village was that the old schoolhouse had been closed down and the children were now bussed into Strathbane. The school had been turned into a house and had just been bought by an English couple, a Mr. and Mrs. Leigh.

Hamish, knowing they had just moved in, strolled along to welcome them to the village. Dick came as well. “I'm right curious to know what it looks like now,” said Dick.

It was a prime location, thought Hamish, facing as it did the long sea loch. The playground had been dug up and earth put in, ready for a garden.

Hamish rang the bell and waited. The door was jerked open by a tall, mannish woman. “What's up?” she demanded, looking at Hamish's uniform.

“Nothing,” said Hamish soothingly. “We just came to welcome you to the village.”

“Come in. I suppose you're just nosy and want to poke around like the rest of the people here.”

She turned away, expecting him to follow her. But Hamish turned away as well, said to Dick, “Come along. We're wasting our time.”

When Mrs. Leigh came back to the door and peered along the waterfront, it was to see the tall figure of Hamish and the smaller figure of Dick heading towards the police station.

She shrugged and went in to join her husband. “Who was that?” he asked.

“The local copper.”

“What did he want?”

“Said he wanted to welcome us to the village. Only wanted to nose around like the rest of them. I told him so and he got the huff.”

Mr. Frank Leigh was a small, fussy little man with grey hair and a small wrinkled brown face like a walnut.

“For God's sake, Bessie, we don't want to antagonise the local fuzz. Go and apologise.”

“Go yourself!”

“All right. It was your idea to move here, so make the best of it. Hand me my stick.”

  

Hamish and Dick were lounging in their deck chairs when Hamish saw a small man struggling to open the front gate.

“It's jammed,” he called. “Go round to the side door.”

Hamish rose and went into the police station and through to the kitchen. He opened the door and looked down at Frank Leigh. “Can I help you, sir?”

“I'm Frank Leigh.”

“And I'm Hamish Macbeth. What can I do for you?”

“I've come to apologise for my wife's rudeness. It's the strain of the removal, you see. The villagers have all been calling and she got fed up. We're only used to city life.”

“Come in,” said Hamish. “Can I get you something? Coffee? Something stronger?”

“Have you any whisky?”

“Yes, sit yourself down and I'll get you one.”

Frank looked around the kitchen and at all the gleaming appliances. “I see you've got all the latest gadgets,” he said. “Wouldn't have thought a local copper could afford all this.”

“I can't,” said Hamish, lifting down a bottle of whisky from a cupboard and thinking, who's the nosy one now? “Dick Fraser, my policeman, is a quiz expert, and he won all this stuff on television shows. How do you take your whisky?”

“Just neat. Aren't you joining me?”

“Daren't risk it in case I'm called out.”

Frank downed his whisky in one gulp and looked hungrily at the bottle. Hamish poured him another one.

“So where are you from?” asked Hamish, leaning his lanky form against the kitchen counter.

“London.”

“And what brought you up here?”

“Quality of life.” Frank seized the bottle and poured himself a full glass.

“A lot of English people come here looking for that,” said Hamish, “but the long dark winters get them down and they soon leave.”

“Not us. Thish is a nice place.”

Hamish guessed he had been drinking earlier. He firmly closed the whisky bottle and put what was left of it back in the cupboard.

“Are you retired?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“What was your business?”

“None of yours, copper.”

“So that's the end of your chat,” said Hamish, a steely note in his voice. He went to the kitchen door and held it open. “My regards to your wife.”

Grumbling under his breath, Frank left.

Hamish sighed. He hoped the Leighs would soon get tired of the Highlands and go back to London.

He was just wondering whether to go back to the garden and join Dick when there came a hammering at the kitchen door. He opened it to face Bessie Leigh.

“How dare you!” she yelled.

“How dare I what?”

“How dare you force whisky on my husband? I shall report you to your superiors.”

“You do that,” said Hamish calmly, “on the understanding that the police will want your whole background and your husband's medical records.”

“You…you…,” she spluttered. Then she said viciously, “Don't come near us again.”

“My pleasure,” said Hamish sweetly, and slammed the door in her face.

Bessie Leigh had reached the schoolhouse when an odd-looking dog with blue eyes and a large cat came strolling along the waterfront towards her. As they came alongside her, the cat raised its fur, its yellow eyes blazed, and it let out a long low hiss.

Bessie let out a squawk of alarm, dived in, and shut the door behind her.

  

Settled once more in the garden after recounting the two visits from the Leighs, Hamish said gloomily, “That pair are trouble.”

“Maybe not,” said Dick comfortably. “The Highlands sometimes seem wall-to-wall in alcoholics. We often get newcomers like that. Heavy drinkers can be awfy romantic. Ah, the hills and the heather, and all that. The winter'll see the last of them.”

  

Hamish decided to go to church on Sunday, not because he was particularly religious, but because he sometimes felt like supporting the minister, Mr. Wellington.

To his surprise, he saw the Leighs seated in a pew. Bessie Leigh was sporting a large felt hat, and she was dressed in a new-​l
ooking
tweed jacket. Dwarfed in her shadow sat her husband.

He received an even bigger surprise to find at the end of the service that the villagers were making their way to the schoolhouse.

“What's going on?” he asked Archie Mac­lean, the fisherman.

“They've invited us all back for coffee and biscuits,” said Archie. “You coming?”

“Not me. I've had a row with her. Drop into the station afterwards, Archie, and tell me what went on.”

  

Archie turned up an hour later. “I could do wi' a dram, Hamish.”

“This is a police station, not a pub,” grumbled Hamish, but he got the whisky bottle out of the cupboard. “So what was it like?”

“Mean, that's what. Cheap instant coffee and water biscuits wi' cream cheese and nowhere to sit. Mrs. Leigh was queening around as if she was auditioning for a part in
Downton
Abbey
. Her man was in the corner reading the Bible.”

“Expensive furnishings?”

“Naw. Looked like Ikea in a tartan rash. Plain wood furniture and a tartan carpet and tartan curtains.”

“So you thought the whole thing phony?”

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