Read Strip Jack Online

Authors: Ian Rankin

Strip Jack (25 page)

The telephone rang. Patience picked the extension up off the floor and held it between them. ‘Yours or mine?’ she asked.

‘Yours.’

She picked up the receiver. ‘Hello? Yes, this is Doctor Aitken. Yes, hello, Mrs Laird. Is he now? Is that right? It isn’t maybe just flu?’

Rebus checked his watch. Nine thirty. It was Patience’s turn to do standby emergency for her group practice.

‘A-ha,’ she was saying, ‘a-ha,’ as the caller talked on. She held the receiver away from her for a second and hurled a silent scream towards the ceiling. ‘Okay, Mrs Laird. No, just leave him be. I’ll be there as soon as I can. What was your address again?’

At the end of the call, she stomped out of bed and started to dress. ‘Mrs Laird’s husband says he’s on the way out this time,’ she said. ‘That’s the third time in as many months, damn the man.’

‘Do you want me to drive you?’

‘No, it’s all right, I’ll go myself.’ She paused, came over and pecked him on the cheek. ‘But thanks for the offer.’

‘You’re welcome.’ Lucky, disturbed from his rest, was now kneading Rebus’s half of the duvet. Rebus made to stroke its head, but the cat shied away.

‘See you later then,’ said Patience, giving him another kiss. ‘We’ll have a talk, eh?’

‘If you like.’

‘I like.’ And with that she was gone. He could hear her in the living room, getting together her stuff, then the front door opening and closing. The cat had left Rebus and was investigating the warm section of mattress from which Patience had lately risen. Rebus thought about getting up, then thought about not. The phone rang again. Another patient? Well, he
wouldn’t answer. It kept on ringing. He answered with a noncommittal ‘Hello’.

‘Took your time,’ said George Flight. ‘Haven’t interrupted anything, have I?’

‘What have you got, George?’

‘Well, I’ve got the trots, since you ask. I blame it on that curry I had at Gunga’s last night. I’ve also got the information you requested, Inspector.’

‘Is that so, Inspector? Well would you mind passing it the hell on!’

Flight snorted. ‘That’s all the thanks I get, after a hard day’s graft.’

‘We all know the kind of graft the Met’s interested in, George.’

Flight tut-tutted. ‘Wires have ears, John. Anyway, the address was a no-show. Yes, a friend of Miss Crawley’s lives there. But she hasn’t seen her for weeks. Last she heard, Crawley was in Edinburgh.’ He pronounced it head-in-burrow.

‘Is that it?’

‘I tried asking a couple of sleazebags connected with Croft.’

‘Who’s Croft?’

Flight sighed. ‘The woman who ran the brothel.’

‘Oh, right.’

‘Only, we’ve had dealings with her before, you see. Maybe that’s why she moved her operation north. So I talked to a couple of her “former associates”.’

‘And?’

‘Nothing. Not even a trade discount on French with spanking.’

‘Right. Well, thanks anyway, George.’

‘Sorry, John. When are we going to see you down here?’

‘When are we going to see you up
here
?’

‘No offence, John, but it’s all that square sausage and fizzy beer. It doesn’t agree with me.’

‘I’ll let you get back to your smoked salmon and Scotch then. Night, George.’

He put the phone down, and considered for a moment.
Then he got out of bed and started to dress. The cat looked satisfied with this arrangement, and stretched himself out. Rebus searched for paper and a pen and scribbled a note to Patience. ‘Lonely without you. Gone for a drive. John.’ He thought about adding a few kisses. Yes, a few kisses were definitely in order.

‘xxx’

Checking that he had car keys, flat keys and money, he let himself out, locking the door behind him.

If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t see.

It was a pleasant enough night for a drive, as it happened. The cloud cover kept the air mild, but there was no sign of rain or wind. It wasn’t at all a bad night for a drive. Inverleith, then Granton, an easy descent to the coast. Past what had been William Glass’s digs . . . then Granton Road . . . then Newhaven. The docks.

If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t see.

He was a lonely man, just out driving, just out driving slowly. They stepped out of shadowy doorways, or else crossed and recrossed at the traffic lights, like a sodium-lit fashion show. Crossed and recrossed. While drivers slowly drove, and slower yet, and slower. He saw nothing he wanted, so he took the car the length of Salamander Street, then turned it. Oh, he was a keen one. Shy, lonely, quiet and keen. Driving his beaten-up old car around the night-time streets, looking for . . . well, maybe just looking
at
, unless he could be tempted . . .

He stopped the car. She came walking smartly towards him. Not that her clothes were smart. Her clothes were cheap and cheerless, a pale raincoat, one size too big, and beneath it a bright red blouse and a mini-skirt. The mini-skirt, Rebus felt, was her big mistake, since her legs were bare and thinly unattractive. She looked cold; she looked as if she
had
a cold. But she tried him with a smile.

‘Get in,’ he said.

‘Hand-job’s fifteen, blow’s twenty-five, thirty-five the other.’

Naïve. He could have arrested her on the spot. You never,
never
talked money till you were sure the punter was straight.

‘Get in,’ he repeated. She had a lot to learn. She got in. Rebus fished out his ID. ‘Detective Inspector Rebus. I’d like a word, Gail.’

‘You lot never give up, do you?’ There was still Cockney in the accent, but she’d been back north long enough for her native Fife to start reasserting itself. A few more weeks, and that final ‘you’ would be a ‘yiz’: youse lot nivir gie up, dae yiz . . .?

She was a slow learner. ‘How come you know my name?’ she asked at last. ‘Were you on that raid? After a freebie, are you, is that it?’

That wasn’t it at all. ‘I want to talk about Gregor.’

The colour drained from her face, leaving only eye makeup and slick red lipstick. ‘Who’s he when he’s at home?’

‘He’s your brother. We can talk down the station, or we can talk at your flat, either suits me.’ She made a perfunctory attempt at getting out of the car. It only needed a touch of his hand to restrain her.

‘The flat then,’ she said levelly. ‘Just don’t be all night about it, eh?’

It was a small room in a flat full of bed-sits. Rebus got the feeling she never brought men back here. There was too much of her about the place; it wasn’t anonymous enough. For a start, there was a picture of a baby on the dressing table. Then there were newspaper cuttings pinned to the walls, all of them detailing the fall of Gregor Jack. He tried not to look at them, and instead picked up the photograph.

‘Put that down!’

He did so. ‘Who is it?’

‘If you must know, it’s me.’ She was sitting on the bed, her two arms stretched out behind her, her mottled legs crossed. The room was cold, but there was no sign of any means of heating it. Clothes spilled from an open chest of drawers, and the floor was littered with bits and pieces of make-up. ‘Get on with it then,’ she said.

There being nowhere to sit, he stood, keeping his hands in his jacket pockets. ‘You know that the only reason your brother was in that brothel was so he could talk to you?’

‘Yeah?’

‘And that if you’d told this to anyone –’

‘Why should I?’ she spat. ‘Why the fuck should I? I don’t owe him no favours!’

‘Why not?’

‘Why not? Because he’s an oily git’s why not. Always was. He’s got it made, hasn’t he? Mum and Dad always liked him better than me . . .’ Her voice trailed off into silence.

‘Is that why you left home?’

‘None of your business why I left home.’

‘Ever see any old friends?’

‘I don’t have any “old friends”.’

‘You came back north. You must have known there was a chance you’d bump into your brother.’

She snorted. ‘We don’t exactly move in the same circles.’

‘No? I thought prostitutes always reckoned MPs and judges were their best clients?’

‘They’re just Johns to me, that’s all.’

‘How long have you been on the game?’

She folded her arms tight. ‘Just sod off, will you?’ And there they were again, the not-quite-tears. Twice tonight he’d just failed to reduce a woman to tears. He wanted to go home and have a bath. But where was home?

‘Just one more question, Gail.’

‘Ms Crawley to you.’

‘Just one more question,
Ms
Crawley.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Someone knew you were working in that brothel. Someone who then told your brother. Any idea who it might be?’

There was a moment’s thought. ‘Not a clue.’

She was lying, obviously. Rebus nodded towards the clippings. ‘Still, you’re interested in him, aren’t you? You know he came to see you that night because he cares –’

‘Don’t give me that crap!’

Rebus shrugged. It
was
crap, too. But if he didn’t get this
woman on to Gregor Jack’s side, then he might never find out who was behind this whole ugly thing.

‘Suit yourself, Gail. Listen, if you want to talk, I’m at Great London Road police station.’ He fished out a card with his name and phone number on it.

‘That’ll be the day.’

‘Well . . .’ He headed for the door, a matter of two and a half strides.

‘The more trouble that piss-pot’s in, the better I’ll like it.’ But her words had lost their force. It wasn’t quite indecision, but perhaps it was a start . . .

9
Within Range

On Monday morning, first findings started filtering down from Dufftown, where the forensic tests of Elizabeth Jack’s BMW were under way. Specks of blood found on the driver’s-side carpet matched Mrs Jack’s type, and there were signs of what might have been a struggle: marks on the dashboard, scuff-marks on the interiors of both front doors, and damage to the radio-cassette, as though it had been hit with the heel of a shoe.

Rebus read the notes in Chief Inspector Lauderdale’s office, then handed them back across the desk.

‘What do you think?’ Lauderdale asked, stifling a Monday morning yawn.

‘You know what I think,’ said Rebus. ‘I think Mrs Jack was murdered in that lay-by, inside her car or outside it. Maybe she tried to run away and was hit from behind. Or maybe her assailant knocked her unconscious first,
then
hit her from behind to make it look like the work of the Dean Bridge murderer. However it happened, I don’t think William Glass did it.’

Lauderdale shrugged and rubbed his chin, checking the closeness of the shave. ‘He still says he did. You can read the transcripts any time you like. He says he was lying low, knowing we were after him. He needed money for food. He came upon Mrs Jack and hit her over the head.’

‘What with?’

‘A rock.’

‘And what did he do with all her stuff?’

‘Threw it into the river.’

‘Come on, sir . . .’

‘She didn’t have any money. That’s what made him so angry.’

‘He’s making it up.’

‘Sounds plausible to me –’

‘No! With respect, sir, what it sounds like is a quick solution, one that’ll please Sir Hugh Ferrie. Doesn’t it matter to you that it isn’t the truth?’

‘Now look here . . .’ Lauderdale’s face was reddening with anger. ‘Look here, Inspector, all I’ve had from you so far is . . . well, what is it? It’s nothing really, is it? Nothing solid or concrete. Nothing you could hang a shirt on, never mind a case in a court of law. Nothing.’

‘How did she get to Queensferry? Who drove her there? What sort of state was she in?’

‘For Christ’s sake, I
know
it’s not cut and dried. There are still gaps –’

‘Gaps! You could fit Hampden into them three times over!’

Lauderdale smiled. ‘There you go again, John, exaggerating. Why can’t you just accept there’s less to this than meets your eye?’

‘Look, sir . . . fine, charge Glass with the Dean Bridge murder, that’s okay by me. But let’s keep an open mind on Mrs Jack, eh? At least until forensics are finished with the car.’

Lauderdale thought about it.

‘Just till they finish the car,’ Rebus pressed. He wasn’t about to give up: Monday mornings were hell for Lauderdale, and the man would agree to just about anything if it meant getting Rebus out of his office.

‘All right, John,’ Lauderdale said, ‘have it your way. But don’t get bogged down in it. Remember,
I’ll
keep an open mind if
you
will. Okay?’

‘Okay.’

Lauderdale seemed to relax a little. ‘Have you seen the Chief Superintendent this morning?’ Rebus had not. ‘I’m not even sure he’s in yet. Maybe he had a heavy weekend, eh?’

‘None of our business really, sir.’

Lauderdale stared at him. ‘Of course, none of our business. But if the Chief Super’s
personal
problems start interfering with his –’

The phone rang. Lauderdale picked up the receiver. ‘Yes?’ He straightened suddenly in his chair. ‘Yes, sir. Was I, sir?’ He flipped open his desk diary. ‘Oh yes, ten.’ He checked his watch. ‘Well, I’ll be there right away. Yes, sir, sorry about that.’ He had the good grace to blush as he put down the receiver.

‘The Chief Super?’ guessed Rebus. Lauderdale nodded.

‘I was supposed to be in a meeting with him five minutes ago. Forgot all about the bloody thing.’ Lauderdale got to his feet. ‘Plenty to keep you occupied, John?’

‘Plenty. I believe DS Holmes has some cars for me to look at.’

‘Oh? Thinking of getting rid of that wreck of yours? About time, eh?’

And, this being his idea of wit, Lauderdale actually laughed.

Brian Holmes had cars for him, cars aplenty. Well actually, a Detective Constable seemed to have done the work. Holmes, it appeared, was already learning to delegate. A list of the cars owned and run by friends of the Jacks. Make, registration, and colour. Rebus glanced down it quickly. Oh great, the only possessor of a colour blue was Alice Blake (The Pack’s Sexton Blake), but she lived and worked in London. There were whites, reds, blacks, and a green. Yes, Ronald Steele drove a green Citroën BX. Rebus had seen it parked outside Gregor Jack’s house the night Holmes had gone through the bins . . . Green? Well, yes, green. He remembered it more as a greeny-blue, a bluey-green.
Keep an open mind
. Okay, it was green. But it was easier to mistake green for blue than, say, red for blue, or white, or black. Wasn’t it?

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