Thursday 24th February
Chief Constable Sam Griffiths lifted the handset and pressed a button for an internal extension—it rang twice before a woman’s voice responded.
“Hello, Sir—DI Hughes.” The woman’s response was formal when she didn’t know if the boss had company.
“Hi, Amy. Is Eddie around?”
First names meant the boss was alone. “Yes, we’re both sifting through the latest intel on our Eastie Beasties.”
Sam gave a brief laugh at the non-PC reference to the East European gangs who were trying to establish themselves in the city. “Something’s come up and it demands our attention, Amy—organise decent coffees before you two come upstairs.”
Sam was turning over a business card in his hand when there was a sharp knock on his open door. He glanced up. “Come in guys. Close the door and get comfortable” Sam reached out and accepted the coffee offered by DI Hughes. “Thanks, Amy.” He sipped the hot liquid. “Lovely.”
DCI Eddie Malone brought a second chair across so that he and his partner were side by side facing the Chief. “What’s happening, Boss?” Eddie sipped his coffee.
Sam reached out and placed the business card on the desk between the two detectives.
The pair leant forward and stared at the purple flowers and green leaves with the light green italic writing at the base.
“Atropa Belladonna?” Eddie looked up at his boss. “I know this should mean something.”
“Oh fuck—sorry, Boss.” Amy looked across the desk at the ex-SAS man who was grinning at her response. “Is she okay?”
Sam nodded. “From what I know at the moment, she’s not only okay—she’s active.” He half-turned to the other member of the pair. “Ringing any bells yet, Eddie?”
“It’s Rachel, isn’t it?” He shook his head as he lifted the card and stared at it. “She’s been out of circulation since ….”
“Suicidal Saturday, 23rd October last year,” Amy said. “It was the night that a suite of offices were mysteriously destroyed in Bothwell Street, Carol McGinley the crime boss was assassinated, and a fake nun switched off Jake Carter’s life support in the Western Infirmary.”
Sam nodded. “You haven’t lost your touch, Amy.”
Eddie smiled and glanced sideways at his partner in life and work. “That’s the only problem with working alongside an ex-collator.”
“A particularly good ex-collator, mate.” Sam lifted his coffee. “Unless I’m mistaken, the Scottish police have just been reinforced by a considerable ally.” He sipped his coffee. “Okay, if she is back at work we’re gonna have a few headaches to contend with, but we can always take aspirin.”
The two detectives laughed, and there was nothing false in their reaction. They’d been chosen by their boss to head up a Special Projects Team which gave them a wide remit, but still left them with frustrating budgets.
“What have we got so far, Boss?” Amy’s smile masked how tired she’d been feeling until a few minutes before.
“Before I tell you any more, I had this faxed from Perth HQ this morning.” He lifted a sheet of paper from his drawer. The sheet was blank except for the image of the Atropa Belladonna business card. “One of these cards was found on the deceased; a Glasgow headcase. Due to the dead man being from our turf, the DCI up at Perth sent this to me.”
The detectives nodded and looked up to their boss.
“You’ll both remember the recent hit on a jewellery store in the west end.”
“Blackwood’s—Byres Road.” Amy nodded and ignored the glance from Eddie. “The proprietors were both shot at close range by an assailant with a handgun.” She stared at the desk for a few seconds. “Suspect is a Glasgow career criminal … McQuade.”
“Well done Amy, except it looks like McQuade’s criminal career is over.” Sam finished his coffee and binned the paper cup. “I’m waiting for a forensics report but so far I know the body has multiple gunshot wounds.”
“Machine-gun?” Eddie finished his coffee and reached under the boss’s desk to ditch the cup.
“No mate. A machine-gun wouldn’t put a round in both thighs, the biceps of one arm, and his throat.”
“Jesus,” Eddie said. “If it is Rachel it sounds like she’s flipped.”
“I’m prepared to reserve judgement,” Sam said. “In the meantime, I’d like you two to head up to Perth Police HQ, check in with DCI Andy Robertson and give my name as a reference.”
“If this is Rachel, are we keeping everything in-house, Boss?” Amy finished her brew and got to her feet. She handed her empty cup to Eddie who rolled his eyes before disposing of the litter.
“It all looks pretty straightforward at the moment,” Sam said. “I’m hoping Rachel hasn’t totally lost the plot. You both know her MO well enough. Use all of today up there if you have to, but I’d like a call when you’re happy that we’ve got an ally and not an enemy.”
“Codename: Nightshade?” Eddie suggested.
“Excellent mate. That will do nicely. Whoever calls, only speak to me, and if everything is good, say nothing else.”
Amy reached down and lifted the business card. She looked at it again, smiled, and handed it to her Chief Constable.
Sam took the card and winked at Amy. “Let’s deal with some bad guys.”
“Hello there.” A red-haired, giant of a man extended his right hand. “DCI Andy Robertson.”
“DCI Eddie Malone,” Eddie said, holding up his card and shaking his opposite number’s hand. “This is DI Amy Hughes, my partner.” He paused. “We’ve been sent by Chief Constable Sam Griffiths.”
“Pleased to meet you, Andy,” Amy said, shaking his hand and holding up her card.
“Delighted,” The big man said and stroked his beard. “How is Sam doing these days—still complaining about shit coffee?”
“You must know him well,” Eddie said. “When I was his junior partner as a DC, shit coffee was like a battle cry.”
“Well, talking of battle cries, we go back a long way, Sam and me.” Andy smiled briefly and nodded. “Anyway, today is all about the body found in the forest.” He nodded to the left. “I’ve got us a small office to have a chat and a brew and then if you like we can drive out to St Fillans.”
“Sounds good,” Eddie said. “If we use my car we can talk on the way if that’s okay with you.”
“Do you have a four-by-four?”
“That’ll do nicely mate—we’ll need off-road capability. Let’s grab that brew and we’ll get started.”
Half an hour after the meeting, the three detectives were in Eddie’s black Range Rover and heading west towards Loch Earn.
Amy was in the rear seat behind Eddie and smiled as she watched Andy in the front passenger seat. The big man chatted in the same friendly manner as he’d done since their meeting, but while on the road his head moved slightly this way and that, as if he was assessing every person, vehicle and movement. It reminded her so much of Sam, and Phil, aka Hawk.
Constant awareness had to be second nature to these ex-Special Forces guys.
“It’s a beautiful region to work in,” Amy said as she took in the scenery.
“It is,” Andy said, half-turning to address Amy. “I was down in London with the Met for a while and when I got promoted to DCI the opportunity came to leave the London rat-race, and I took it.”
“I suppose if you have a service background you’re still partial to the great outdoors?”
“I am Amy—I’m a member of the local Mountain Rescue Team so I get to spend plenty of time looking for bloody fools who go out ill-equipped and usually in shit weather.”
The two Glasgow detectives laughed.
“We’ve just passed through Crieff,” Eddie said. “Do you want us to stop when we reach Comrie?”
“No mate—we’ll go straight on to St Fillans. We only have a small team in Comrie, and as interesting as it was for them to be involved in a murder case, they’re savvy enough to make a report and fuck off out of the way—sorry, Amy, I was forgetting—”
“Don’t worry about bad language.” Amy laughed. “I live with Eddie.”
“Bloody charming,” Eddie said, which caused Andy to burst into laughter—a refreshing thing for the others to see from the big man.
They drove through Comrie, which took less than five minutes and then it was scenery without civilisation. The eastern edge of the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park came into view as the massive forest expanded across the area to the front.
“The St Fillans Golf Course is your early warning Eddie—it comes up on the left and then we’ll see a track on the right about half a mile later.”
Eddie slowed when he saw the small local patrol car parked across the track entrance. He shifted into low ratio and drove over the undergrowth to steer around the car. The track was narrow and steep but easily managed in the big car. Blue and white police incident tape appeared in the distance tied around a few trees, and then farther along more tape could be seen, but it led like a pathway down between the trees.
“The first marked area has had casts done and we found fragments of paint on the trees,” Andy said. “My guess is that somebody was trying to get away in a hurry, and treated the vehicle as if they didn’t care.”
“No regard for damage,” Amy suggested and nodded. “Perhaps leaving in a panic?”
“I’d agree with that, Amy, and I don’t believe it was the shooter.” He smiled back at her. “Somebody up here was in control, and they didn’t leave in that vehicle.”
Eddie pulled over into the tree line when they arrived at the much longer lines of fluttering blue and white tape. “Okay here, Andy?”
“Yes, mate—this is fine.” Andy reached down into the footwell to lift a small bag he’d brought along. “We only have one of the local officers up here to keep people away from the scene.”
“I’ve got some covers in the back,” Eddie said as the three of them got out of the car.
A few minutes later, suitably attired in blue overboots the three detectives made their way down the outer edge of the tape.
“If you look in between the lines of tape you’ll see that it isn’t a recognised footpath, but the route that maybe one or two people have used. The foliage is hardly damaged and most of the grass is standing.”
The trio descended carefully towards a small clearing which featured a log cabin, a large fallen tree and a spectacular view of Loch Earn. The clearing also bore witness to the Scene of Crime team in that they’d left several plastic markers in position at DCI Robertson’s request.
A young constable was standing back a few paces among the trees. “Hello, Sir—we meet again.”
“Hi mate, it’s … PC Donald, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Sir.” The twenty-something officer was wearing his regular uniform, complete with Hi-Vis vest and leather gloves. He continued to stamp his feet and rub his gloved hands together as the three people approached.
“Get yourself down to your car for half an hour and get warmed up.” Andy handed over the small bag he’d brought. “There are sandwiches, a chocolate bar, and a flask of coffee in there.”
“Thanks, Sir.” The young man’s face glowed with appreciation as he accepted the bag and set off.
“Donald,” Andy shouted after him.
“Yes, Sir.” PC Donald paused.
“You tell anybody about that snack bag and I’ll come back to Comrie and cut your balls off.”
Donald’s laughter could be heard as he set off down to his patrol car.
Amy and Eddie exchanged a glance and grinned.
“Right, people,” Andy said. “If we stand back for a minute I’ll talk you through what I’m pretty certain about, and then you guys can enlighten me with your wisdom.” He grinned. “I’m getting the impression that my mate Sam knows more about this little caper than he’s letting on.”
Again the Glasgow detectives exchanged a glance, but they merely nodded and listened.
“We’ve got three people involved. Judging by shoe size, I’m presently going with one woman and two men. One of the men was our deceased, psychopathic armed robber. The other guy is probably a city type—smooth-soled shoes, and he might never have been in woodland before. There are traces of where he lost his footing coming down through the undergrowth.”
“How do you know the third one is female?” Amy was squatting beside strange footprints not far from the big fallen tree.
“Plastic bags or something similar has been secured around the footwear, so there is no definite print, but the smaller size is indicative of a woman, irrespective of the type of shoe—in this case possibly a boot.”
“What makes you think it’s a boot?” Eddie squatted down beside Amy for a closer inspection.
“The heel is a solid and wide block. She, if it is she, has respect for forensics. It was fairly obvious she’d make footprints, so instead of pretending she wasn’t here, she’s simply disguised her footwear and the associated detail.”
“Fingerprints anywhere?” Amy nodded towards the cabin.
“Yes we’ve got prints which match the deceased—his are all over the place. We also have a few dabs of the city guy, but none for the professional.”
“Vehicle traces being worked through?” Eddie said as he stood and looked around.
“Yes, we’ve got tyre marks and paint samples for the vehicle which was bounced off the trees.” Andy smiled. “Near where the vehicle was parked are clear prints of smooth-soled shoes. There was another vehicle which had been stolen and was dumped in a car park not far from the forest. It has the deceased guy’s prints all over.” He paused. “The guy must have revisited the car a couple of times because there were footprints inside which had left grass inside.”
“It’ll take a while, but with a paint colour trace we’ll find the vehicle type for the other one,” Eddie said. “If it’s a city boy, and it’s somebody who takes pride in their vehicle they’ll want a professional respray.”
Amy looked from one to the other. “If it got up that gradient we climbed I think that would indicate something with four-wheel-drive capability, which the tyre prints will confirm.”
Andy said, “We’ve got a dead guy, and I’m confident we’ll find the other male, but our lady friend is good, whoever she is.” He smiled at his colleagues from Glasgow. “Now, my old mate Sam said, if we all play nicely you guys will throw me a bit of slack on this case.”
Amy turned to Eddie, who smiled and nodded for her to continue.
“It’s a bit of a long story, but I think it’s one you’ll enjoy,” Amy said. “If you like, I can relate it to you on the return trip, but I can give you a tasty morsel for now.”
“Go on,” Andy glanced at a grinning Eddie and then turned to Amy. “If it’s that good, I’ll treat you both to tea and scones in a nice little cafe in Comrie on the way back.”
“In the summer of 1996, a vigilante hit the streets of Glasgow.” Amy paused. “He recruited a small, select band of companions, trained them and caused havoc in gangland.”
“Wait a minute,” Andy clicked his fingers. “Didn’t he use some codename, like the sort of thing you’d see in an action-adventure comic?”
“Hawk.” Amy said and nodded. “He used a nickname to give him simple personal security, and a recognisable codeword for us.”
“I loved the guy when I read reports about him. I wanted to meet him and shake his hand.” Andy shook his head. “Wait a minute—what rank were you back in ’96 Amy?”
“I was a constable, and the only person of my age who had studied the pre-computer collator role.”
Andy nodded. “I’m glad this badass turned up dead here or I wouldn’t be hearing this stuff. I did admire the Hawk guy—didn’t he disappear last year?”
“Talk to Sam about him some time,” Eddie said. “You might find you and our modern folk hero have a few things in common.”
“Right,” Andy said. “Before we go down to the car, how does our professional hitter fit in?”
“If we’re right,” Amy said. “The young woman who paid McQuade a visit here is one of a team trained by Hawk.”
“Okay, the tea and scones are on me—come on.”
The trio had almost reached the bottom of the track when they were met by the young PC.
“Excuse me, Sir.”
“First of all, thanks a bunch for the snack.” He handed over the bag and flask. “Is there a possibility that a motorbike was used by somebody in this incident?”
“Why do you ask?”
“While I was enjoying my coffee and chocolate bar I wandered along the grass verge. About fifty yards to the east there’s a trace of a big bike being pushed in between the trees.”
“Go on son—why do you think it was big, and pushed?”
“Well it was a big bike because the rear tyre print looks like a bloody tractor. I believe it was pushed because the indentation would have been deeper if the rider was still in the saddle.”
“Okay mate … keep showing off. Have you discovered anything else?”
“The rider only walked a short distance in on the grass and then stepped down into the nearby stream. There are no boot prints on either side for several yards.”
All three detectives were enthralled by the young policeman’s findings.
“I walked along both sides for a few minutes, and there are no exit prints. That tells me that whoever it was wanted to get deep in among the woodland before they left any impressions.”
“Are you an Agatha Christie fan?” Eddie said and laughed.
“No, my dad was a gamekeeper and he taught me to track, Sir.”
“You’ve got to love these country boys,” Andy said and clapped a hand on the PC’s shoulder. “Well done Donald. I’m impressed, son.”
“Thank you, Sir.” PC Donald walked up the track, fed, watered, warm, and satisfied that he’d impressed a man who was already a respected figure in the local region.
“Rachel rides a Kawasaki,” Amy said to a grinning Andy.
It was mid-afternoon when the trio arrived back at Perth Police HQ.
Andy had an update waiting for him regarding the recent incident, but once again he ushered his guests into an office to brief them.
Eddie said, “I suppose your guys will be a bit pissed off that we’re here dealing with this instead of them.”
“That may be so, Eddie, but we work for the greater good mate, and from what you two have told me, I have a feeling this thing is going to get much bigger than our team could handle along with what we refer to as routine matters.”
The visitors sat patiently waiting while Andy scanned the few pages of update information and glanced at the accompanying diagrams and photos.
“The guys have done well at short notice, although it might be a mix of professional pride and excitement.” Andy handed over a diagram. “The bullet in the throat was fired from a different weapon to the bullets fired into the arm and legs. All are 9mm, although the one in the throat is flat-tipped so caused much more damage than the others.”
“Apart from it being in his throat,” Amy said and smiled.
Eddie glanced at her and shook his head.
Andy said, “The early signs are that McQuade was shot in the legs and arm first, and then the throat shot killed him. Judging from range and angle of entry, the arm and leg wounds were caused by somebody standing while the deceased was sitting. The fatal wound occurred when the victim was already on the ground.”
Amy said, “Rachel might have some issues to work through still, but the non-fatal injuries would be typical of her training by … her ex-colleagues. One injury will assure the target that she’s capable of shooting somebody. Two would be to weaken their resolve, and I can only imagine the third was because McQuade was dumb enough not to recognise that he had one last chance to talk.”
“What do you think, Eddie?” Andy turned to his other guest.
“Going on our experience of what we’ve found in the past, I’d agree with everything Amy’s just said. I also don’t believe Rachel would kill for the sake of it—whoever the person is, but we know it was her who pulled the plug on her boyfriend’s life support—he was in a vegetative state.”
“Fuck,” Andy said. “That takes more guts than shooting an arsehole like McQuade.”
A light tapping on the door caused all three to turn.
“Come in,” Andy said. “Hi Cathy—what have you got for us?”
“When I got your phone call earlier I ditched everything else, Sir.” The pretty PC handed over a photograph. “This is a still from CCTV footage taken in Perth on Tuesday. I only had to check five cameras but there weren’t that many motorbikes around.”
“Why have you circled the car in front?”
“The car is a red BMW four-wheel-drive, and it appeared in two stretches of the footage. I went back and double-checked. Both the car and the motorbike came from the direction of Glasgow within about a minute of each other. Notably the bike never actually got close to the BMW all the way through about seven or eight junctions in Perth.”
“Good work, Cathy, thanks.”
As a matter of interest, Sir, both vehicles were last seen passing a camera westbound, on the way towards the National Park, and the bike was a long way back—which suggests to me, it was tailing the car.”
“I owe you a big chocolate cake.”
Cathy laughed and turned to the other two detectives, rolling her eyes as she left the room.
Amy said, “Excuse me, gentlemen, I have to make a brief call.” She fished her mobile phone from her shoulder bag and hit speed-dial for a number. She listened for a few seconds to hear a response on the other end.
Andy squinted and Eddie smiled.
Amy said, “Nightshade.” She ended the call and grinned as she put her phone away.