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Read an extract of When Shadows Fall by Alex Gray

C H A P TE R  O NE

 

 

Joseph Alexander Flynn whistled as he turned into the driveway of the big house. He could see the storm doors beyond the front porch were shut and there was no sign of any vehicle parked outside. That suited him just fine. No interruptions from the owner of the house, who occasionally worked from home, meant that Flynn would have a clear run at the job today. It was a cold morning but thankfully there was no sign of frost. Digging at this time of year was always problematic, October mornings might bring icy windscreens and ground hard as iron but today looked ideal for a bit of landscaping.

 

Flynn stopped the truck around the side of the house, as previously instructed by his client, and looked at the place with a critical eye. Hedges on one side with white cobwebs sewn together, dewdrops twinkling as the sun rose weakly in a misty sky; a steeply sloping lawn that would need a mower before the year’s end and, hidden from the sight of anyone looking out from the big house, a derelict patch that had once been a kitchen garden but was now little more than a mass of brambles and weeds. Clearing this area and turning it into raised beds for growing vegetables was the task that Flynn had agreed to take on for a reasonable fee.

His breath clouded in front of him as he trudged downhill, a spade and fork in each gloved hand. It should take him the best part of a week to clear the ground, he’d told the owner of the garden, several days more to build the raised beds and create new places for planting. Now, two days into his task, Flynn could see what the client had in mind. Almost half of the neglected patch had been tackled, a heap of tangled foliage piled high in one corner, to be carted away when the whole lot was uprooted. Once the entire space had been cleared Flynn would dig it over again, rake it to a finer tilth then set the wooden frames around the rectangle of soil. His expert eye already saw the end result and he was keen to add the client to his list of regulars, knowing what work a garden this size demanded.

‘Right,’ he muttered aloud, placing one booted foot against the fork, and eyeing the next bramble bush with a determined glint in his eye. ‘Here we go again.’

It was not going to be an easy job to get at the roots of this one, he soon discovered, plunging the fork repeatedly into the soil. Taking a pair of secateurs from his jacket pocket, Flynn began to cut back the whip-like stems and fling them towards the path. Once more he dug around the stump of the bramble bush, heaving at the embedded plant to reach its deepest root. At last he felt a shift beneath the tines of the fork and with an extra push the roots began to emerge from the ground, scattering clumps of soil.

 

He wiped a hand across his eyes, blinking to rid himself of the tiny bits of dirt that had hit his face. Next he’d have to dig up the rest of these thread-like roots in order to clear another bit of ground.

Flynn blinked once more, a frown creasing his brow.

It was not just more of the bush’s root system that caught his attention and he bent down to examine it more closely, pushing the soil to one side.

At first Flynn thought it must be something a dog had buried, the bone a pale shape against the dark earth. But when his gloved hand scooped out more loose soil, Flynn sat back on his haunches, blinking in disbelief.

Somewhere a robin was piping its frosty note, a harbinger of winter to come, but all that Flynn could hear was a ringing in his ears as he stared at the skull grinning up at him from the place where it had been buried.

 

 

C H A P T ER  T W O

 

 

‘Say that again.’ Detective Superintendent William Lorimer sat back in his chair, a frown creasing the space between his blue eyes. ‘You’ve found what?’

‘A body,’ Flynn said. ‘A body buried in this garden I’m workin’ in the now. C’mon, Lorimer, you huv tae dae some- thing, man. I cannae stay here on my own.’

‘You’re kidding me, right?’ Lorimer began, but he’d caught the edge of fear in his friend’s voice and knew that this was no joking matter. Joseph Alexander Flynn had a strange sense of humour but even he would hesitate to call the head of the MIT at work with a daft story.

‘Where are you?’ Lorimer asked, listening and jotting down the address in the West Renfrewshire countryside that Flynn gave him.

‘Okay, stay there, touch nothing else and make sure nobody else sees it till the officers arrive. Got that? I’ll send someone to you right away.’

‘C’n you no’ come here yerself?’

 

Lorimer heard the pleading in the younger man’s voice and instantly recalled the days when Flynn had recuperated at his own home, an ex-druggie knocked down in the street as he was chased by one of his officers. From the beginning there had been something vulnerable about him that had tugged at Lorimer’s conscience, prompting him to offer sanctuary to the skinny lad.

‘I’ll see,’ was all he could promise.

 

It was less than half an hour’s drive to the village of Houston from Glasgow city centre, the client’s house on the outskirts, up a farm road and along a deserted tree-lined avenue.

A squad car was already parked in the driveway, a uni- formed officer standing by the doorway of the house when the detective superintendent arrived.

‘Sir.’ The man came forward as soon as Lorimer stepped out of the Lexus.

‘You’ve secured the scene.’ Lorimer nodded approvingly as he caught sight of the blue and white tape stretched either side of the house to prevent any unauthorised access. ‘That was quick.’ He gave the officer a smile.

‘Mr Flynn’s in his truck, sir,’ the officer told him, pointing to the left-hand side of the building.

Lorimer raised his hand in thanks before ducking under the tape and heading to the familiar green truck several yards away. Flynn had been employed by Glasgow District Council for some years before setting up on his own, the maintenance of the Lorimers’ garden becoming one of his regular jobs.

‘All right?’ Lorimer opened the driver’s door and regarded his friend. The younger man’s normally ruddy complexion was pale and his eyes flicked nervously from Lorimer back towards the place where he had found the skeleton.

Flynn nodded silently, exhaling a long breath. ‘Aye,’ he answered shortly. ‘Cannae believe it, mind. Wan minute I’m diggin’ up that big bramble, the next thing I sees this skeleton grinnin’ up at me. Fair gied me the willies.’ He shook his head.

‘Where’s the owner of the property?’ Lorimer asked. ‘Dunno. I gied they other polis Mr Mathieson’s number,

though. He and the wife both work in Glasgow. The kids are all at school the now. Thon private place over in Kilmacolm, he telt me.’

‘What do you know about him, your client?’

‘No’ an awfie lot,’ Flynn replied, scratching his head. ‘His name’s Lawrence Mathieson. Works in a bank. Telt me they’d bought the place last year, moved in before the summer when they came up frae England. Wanted the garden done before the winter.’

‘How did he get in touch with you?’

Flynn shrugged. ‘Word o’ mouth. Ah dae the gardens for the estate agent he bought this place from,’ he said, jerking a thumb at the blond-sandstone villa.

Lorimer gave the house a quick glance. It was probably Victorian, a solid three-storey building, and now he noticed a large conservatory at the far side as he looked back. From this vantage point close to the back of the property he could see a large curve of paving slabs that provided a pleasant terrace for a weatherworn table and chairs placed opposite French windows. He looked up at the sky: the original architect had chosen a south-facing aspect and whoever lived here would enjoy sunshine from early morning to sunset. Beyond the extensive terrace a large area of the lawn was flat then it sloped away steeply to the neglected area below where Flynn had been working. The grass near the house had been tended and there were large pots of chrysanthemums close to the French doors but the lower part of the garden had grown wild. Over how many years? Lorimer wondered.

‘Have they taken a statement from you?’ he asked. ‘Naw, jist telt me tae stay put the now.’

‘You okay with that?’ Lorimer patted his shoulder.

‘Aye, s’pose so,’ Flynn sighed. ‘This wis meant tae keep me busy all week,’ he grumbled. ‘Nothin’ else in  the diary onyway.’

Lorimer stood up and looked down the garden path where a couple of uniformed officers stood watching him.

‘I’ll try not to keep you too long,’ he promised. ‘Just wait here meantime, all right?’

 

Flynn nodded but the expression on his face was glum as Lorimer began to make his way along the beaten earth pathway, its edges green with moss.

Autumn leaves whirled about his feet as he descended the slope and took his first sight of the place where Flynn had been digging. A garden fork was still lodged in the soil at one side, a perfect perch for the beady-eyed robin that was regarding him intently as he approached.

Forensics would be here within the hour but by the look of the site, there was no danger of contamination to the sur- rounding paths. Flynn had thrown down a plank of wood close to the area he’d been digging, possibly to prevent his boots sinking into the damp earth, so Lorimer picked his way gingerly along and looked down into the hole.

A pale skull looked up at him, its grinning teeth like some macabre mask better suited to Hallowe’en. Once upon a time someone had wrapped the body in layers of black plastic, shreds of which were still visible where Flynn had been digging. And not only the gardener – foxes, probably, scenting fresh meat at some time, tearing the covering with hungry teeth and claws. This skeleton was probably not going to be found intact, he guessed. It was not the first cadaver Lorimer had seen buried deep in a makeshift grave but he still felt a shiver down his spine as he gazed at the bones. Whoever this was, it had to be identified. He shifted his position, hunkering down on the plank, and tried to examine the skull more carefully without touch- ing anything.

Was that a bit of dirt . . . ? He bent more closely and took a quick breath. No, that was not dirt, but a neat hole in the side of the skull.

 

The sun had risen higher in the sky by the time the scene    of crime officers arrived and now there were several white- suited figures at the foot of this garden, a forensic tent erected over the remains lest a sudden shower of rain flood the grave.

Lorimer looked up to see another figure approaching, his familiar long, loping stride a welcome sight.

Iain Mackintosh, the Procurator Fiscal, did not always grace a scene of crime with his presence but today he  was evidently curious enough to see this for himself after

 

Lorimer had called him. There was no doubt in Lorimer’s mind that this was a suspicious death and as such, a matter for the Fiscal. Under Scots law, a body belonged to the Crown at this stage of an investigation and so Mackintosh’s arrival was not so unusual.

‘Iain.’ Lorimer grasped the outstretched hand, already clad in double layers of latex, like his own.

‘What have we got here?’ Mackintosh asked, his eyebrows raised in expectation.

Lorimer shrugged. ‘Who knows? Pathologist reckons it to be male, but until they get him along to the mortuary for further examination, we won’t know much more.’

‘Any identification?’

Lorimer shook his head. ‘Nothing yet. He might have been naked when he was buried there, the officers have found no trace of any clothing, wallet, shoes . . . looks to me like he was killed a long time ago, but that’s something we can’t even guess at right now.’

Mackintosh turned to look up at the house. ‘What about the owner of this place?’

‘Chap called Mathieson. Lawrence Mathieson. He’s coming from Glasgow as we speak. Just bought the house a year ago, or less. Flynn there was doing a landscape job for him,’ he added, pointing up the pathway to the garden- er’s truck.

Your Flynn?’ Mackintosh’s eyes widened. ‘Lad that stayed with you during the Royal Concert Hall case?’

‘The very same. Has his own business now, garden main- tenance and landscaping. He’s made a good fist of it too,’ Lorimer told the Fiscal, a tinge of pride in his voice.

 

‘Bet that gave him a queer fright,’ Mackintosh said, turn- ing back towards the forensic tent where the skeleton lay.

‘Aye, but I think his fright’s worn off now and he’s cursing the loss of a decent commission,’ Lorimer chuckled. ‘Time’s money when you work for yourself.’

‘Any idea about previous owners?’

‘Still to find out but hopefully we’ll know soon enough. I’m guessing that’s Mr Mathieson heading our way now,’ he replied, looking up to where two uniformed officers were engaged in conversation with a man in a dark coat.

‘Shall we?’ Mackintosh gestured for Lorimer to accom- pany him up the steep path to where the owner of the house, and this garden, stood watching them, hands thrust into his pockets.

 

Lawrence Mathieson was a man in his late forties, Lorimer reckoned, sandy-haired and smartly dressed in a grey chalk stripe suit beneath a navy blue coat. As he shook the man’s hand, Lorimer glimpsed the Rolex watch on Mathieson’s wrist, noting the man’s quizzical expression as he made the necessary introductions.

‘What’s going on?’ Mathieson’s well-bred voice showed a degree of irritation, though he was clearly too polite to vent his annoyance on a senior police officer and a Crown official. ‘Nobody gave me a reason why I suddenly needed to be here. Official police business, they said.’

‘Sorry to drag you out from the city, sir.’ Lorimer paused for a moment, searching for words to tell the man that a skeleton had been found in his garden. ‘Mr Flynn, your gardener, was digging the patch at the bottom of the garden when he made a discovery,’ he began. ‘Sorry to have to tell you this, sir, but human remains have been found.’

‘Human remains, you say? Who on earth is it? And what are they doing in my garden?’

‘It looks as if this person was buried in your garden a long time ago, sir,’ Iain Mackintosh told him. ‘The remains are skeletal so that would indicate a historic burial.’

‘Historic? You mean it might be centuries old? Something of significance?’

‘That cannot be determined just yet, sir, but of course anything that we can tell you at a future date, we will,’ Mackintosh assured him.

‘Perhaps we might go inside, Mr Mathieson,’ Lorimer suggested. ‘What we’d like to know is something about the previous owners and a bit about the house itself. How old it is, land registration, that sort of thing.’ He phrased his words to keep them deliberately vague.  It  was  highly  unlikely that the banker had any connection with the buried body,   but Lorimer wanted to find out a bit more about Lawrence Mathieson and his choice of home out here, miles from the city. A family man, with kids in school, yet he’d chosen this remote house. It was a small thing, but caused Lorimer to ask himself: why?

The two men watched as the banker produced a set of keys and proceeded to unlock the storm doors and open them wide. There was a glass door beyond that required two different sets of keys to unlock.

 

Lorimer exchanged raised eyebrows with the Fiscal as they stood behind Mathieson: evidently there was some  need for all this extra security. And each man’s mind was buzzing with the possibilities. A safe full of important work- related documents? Personal effects worth a lot of money? That Rolex certainly suggested that the Mathiesons weren’t short of a bob or two. Perhaps, reasoned Lorimer, it was simply the remoteness of this place that justified extra care when leaving it unattended.

As the banker stepped inside an alarm began to sound but he quickly opened a small cabinet fixed to the wall and disarmed it with a few clicks before closing it once more. The security code would be something known only to the owner and his wife and from the way he shielded the digital keypad it was evident that Mathieson had no intention of letting a stranger see what it was, police officer or not.

‘Do come in, gentlemen,’ Mathieson said at last, standing aside and beckoning them forward.

Inside, the reception hall yawned to reveal a corridor that led left and right with a set of closed double doors directly ahead.

Sunlight streamed into the large room as Mathieson pushed them open, leading the two men forwards, the French windows opposite letting his visitors see the grounds outside as far as the edge of the lawn, the steep slope mask- ing the current activity where Flynn had made his discovery. Mathieson shed his coat, tossing it on the back of an antique chair that sat in one corner of the room next to a long

glass-fronted cabinet gleaming with silverware.

‘Please take a seat, gentlemen.’ He gestured towards a pair of pale apricot-coloured sofas that were angled to give the best view of the terrace and garden.

 

Lorimer was used to seeing the change that often came over the owner of a house when  he or she  was visited by  the police; the proprietorial look on the householder’s face, the advantage over strangers that came from being in their own home. Yet this chap had not lived here very long, he reminded himself as Mathieson leaned  back  and  crossed his legs.  Perhaps  the  man was used to asserting himself   in his everyday life and a visit from the police held no ter- rors for him.

‘Lovely property, how did you come to choose it?’ he began, glancing around the room with an appreciative smile on his face. It had been recently decorated, he guessed, the wall coverings fresh and modern, yet in a leaf pattern that was timeless and well suited to the antique furniture.

‘Usual way,’ Mathieson said, his tone a shade sarcastic as though the question was elementary. ‘Estate agent sent us particulars of several places. I’d given them a brief that included a decent-sized house with enough garden grounds but not anywhere that was overlooked by other properties. We value our privacy,’ he added with a smirk.

‘Certainly fits the bill,’ Mackintosh remarked. ‘I take it you viewed the place before buying it?’

Mathieson uncrossed his legs and shifted a little in his seat. ‘Just once,’ he told them. ‘My wife liked it immediately. She’s a keen gardener and wanted to have plots where she could grow vegetables. That’s why we hired this Flynn char- acter to clear the overgrown area and make raised beds. He’s a bit rough around the edges but came with good references,’ he explained.

Lorimer made no comment, hoarding the remark to tell Maggie, his wife, later on. Joseph Alexander Flynn had been a particular favourite of Maggie’s late mother and the Lorimers still regarded him as a close friend.

‘The previous owner—’

‘In a care home,’ Mathieson interrupted. ‘The place was too much for her, seemingly, and had to be sold. Probably to help fund the woman’s expenses, I imagine. The house lay empty for about a year, I believe.’

‘And nobody lived here at all during that time?’ Lorimer asked.

Mathieson shook his head. ‘It was in the hands of the agents till we bought it. Must say we did get it at a good price, but then anything up here is dirt cheap compared to London prices.’

Was that another smirk? Lorimer felt a prickle of annoy- ance, as if this man was deliberately trying to needle them, remind the two Scots that they were in some way inferior to the English banker. Yet, he mused, why had Mathieson chosen to come north if he felt this way? Was it just the availability of bigger and cheaper housing? The banking crisis had made many of his fellow workers  redundant but somehow this man had survived and was reaping the rewards only a few could enjoy. The privileged few – the phrase came into his mind. That was what Mathieson reeked of, he told himself. Privilege. We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns, Maggie’s mother used to tell them and Lorimer had loved her for it. In his profession all the members of the public he met were treated the same, irrespective of creed or class, and Lorimer had sat beside weeping relatives from every sector of society.

 

He set aside these feelings and concentrated on Mathieson, the owner of a property where a murder might have been committed.

‘What else do you know about the previous owner? Where exactly is she now?’ he asked.

Mathieson frowned for a moment as though he were trying to recall enough to answer the detective superinten- dent’s question.

‘Ah, yes,’ he said, sitting up a little straighter, his brow clearing. ‘Not too far from here, in fact. Erskine Hospital, I think it’s called, the place for ex-servicemen. And women,’ he added hastily. ‘I think she may have been in the forces during World War Two. That’s about all I know. You really ought to contact the estate agency. Their people would be able to tell you more.’ Mathieson wagged an instructive finger at them as though Lorimer  and  the  Fiscal  needed his advice.

‘Indeed,’ Iain Mackintosh murmured. ‘I think the police already have that in hand, sir.’

Lorimer risked a glance at the Fiscal, seeing a red tide wash across his neck and jaw. Mackintosh was clearly strug- gling to keep his cool.

‘What happens now?’ Mathieson asked, sitting on the edge of his seat to indicate that it was time to wrap up their interview. Lorimer looked at the body language: the head held high, hands on each side as though he wanted to stand up and bid them goodbye.

‘I can see you want to get back to work,’ Lorimer told him, standing up and making the first move, an amused smile on his face.

Mathieson jumped to his feet and looked up at the tall detective towering over him. ‘Right, I’ll show you both out,’ he declared and strode across the room, coming to stop at the large double doors, a fixed smile on his face that did not reach his eyes.

‘Thank you, sir,’ Lorimer said, stopping deliberately in the doorway. ‘We will be in touch later today but meantime if you would ensure that nobody from the house goes near the bottom of the garden.’ It was not a request and there was no doubt in his mind that Mathieson realised that as he nodded.

‘Of course, of course.’

‘There will be officers here for the rest of the day and possibly for several days to come,’ Lorimer added gravely.

Mackintosh turned towards the banker as he closed the doors of the huge sitting room behind him, waiting patiently till he had Mathieson’s attention.

‘The cadaver is the possession of the Crown at the moment. That is something you may not understand. Scots law is rather different from what goes on down south,’ he said, a tinge of pride in his voice. ‘You would do well to remember that.’

Lorimer heard the front door thud shut behind them as he walked away from the house, Mackintosh at his side.

There was no need to express his feelings, Lorimer thought, seeing the Fiscal shake his head and raise his eyes heavenwards. Iain Mackintosh had clearly taken a scunner to the owner of the property. Though, Lorimer told himself, Lawrence Mathieson would probably not know the meaning of the word.