Tooth for a Tooth (Di Gilchrist 3)
Detective Chief Inspector Andy Gilchrist stood alone at the back of the chapel as the curtains closed on the coffin of his ex-wife. He barely heard the prayer of committal as he watched his son, Jack, in the family group in the front pew, place an arm around Maureen. Beside them shuddered the grieving figure of their stepfather, Harry. Even now, at the moment of Gail’s final parting, Gilchrist could not find it in his heart to forgive Harry.
As the chapel emptied, Gilchrist held back, tagging on to the end of the mourners, each giving their condolences to the family line as they shuffled through the vestibule.
Jack gave him a sad smile of surprise. ‘I didn’t see you.’
‘Late as usual,’ Gilchrist offered.
Jack’s grip was firm, a son-to-father handshake meant to assure Gilchrist that Jack would be strong for all of them. The tremor in his chin said otherwise.
Gilchrist pulled him closer, gave him a hug. ‘Mum’s no longer suffering,’ he said.
Jack nodded, tight-lipped, as they parted.
Maureen went straight for a hug. ‘I wasn’t sure you’d come.’
Even through her heavy coat he could feel her bones, her body light enough to lift with ease, it seemed. She was thin, too thin. He tried to say something, but found he could not trust his voice. Instead, he hugged her tighter, breathed her in, pressed his lips to her ear.
‘We’ll miss Mum,’ he managed to say.
He gave Harry a firm handshake and a wordless nod, conscious of Maureen’s eyes on him, searching for signs of forgiveness. Then he was down the stone steps, marching across the car park, avoiding eye contact with family friends he did not know. From his car, he watched Jack and Maureen leave the chapel hand in hand, Harry in front, defeated, alone. And something in that simple formation told Gilchrist that Harry could never fill their paternal void.
He caught Maureen’s eye as she prepared to step into the funeral car.
Are you coming back?
she mouthed to him.
He nodded as she slipped from his view, then he powered up his mobile and saw he had two missed calls, both from Stan.
‘What’s up, Stan?’ Gilchrist asked.
‘Thought you might be interested in a skeleton, boss. Just been dug up.’
Gilchrist switched on the ignition, slipped into Drive. ‘Keep going.’
‘In Dairsie Cemetery. Uncovered while the lair was being opened for another burial. No coffin, and not six feet under, boss. So we’re definitely thinking murder.’
Gilchrist eased his Mercedes SLK Roadster forward. Ahead, the funeral car cruised through the crematorium grounds, grey exhaust swirling in the October chill. The wake was being held in Haggs Castle Clubhouse, the golf club where Harry was a member. Gilchrist knew he should attend, for Jack and Maureen, for Gail’s memory, too. But the thought of faking a face for Harry decided it for him.
‘I’m on my way, Stan.’
Gilchrist walked through the gate in the old stone wall and into the cemetery grounds.
By a gnarled willow tree in the far corner the forensic tent was erected. Yellow tape looped around it from headstone to headstone. As Gilchrist approached, Stan broke the connection on his mobile with a slap of its cover.
‘This skeleton,’ Gilchrist said, as he pushed his feet into his coveralls. ‘Is it in good nick?’
‘Right thigh bone chopped through by one of the gravediggers. But other than that, it seems perfect.’
‘Whose plot were they preparing?’
‘A local by the name of Lorella McLeod. Fair old age of eighty-seven. Passed away at the weekend and was to be laid to rest in the family lair next to her husband, Hamish. He died in ’69. So the grave’s not been touched for thirty-odd years.’ Stan shook his head. ‘Already checked our misper files for ’68 to ’75, and came up empty-handed.’
‘What about the PNC?’
‘Got Nance doing that, even as we speak.’
Gilchrist pulled his coveralls up and over his shoulders, his mind working through Stan’s rationale. ‘Did the McLeods have children?’ he asked.
‘None. Mrs McLeod lived alone.’
‘For the last what, thirty-five years?’
‘So I’m told, boss. But I haven’t confirmed that yet.’
Gilchrist looked away. Tree-covered hills were already greying with the coming of winter. It seemed unimaginable for someone to live by themselves for that length of time, and he wondered if the end of his life would be as destitute. Sadness swept through him
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