Private Investigations

Quintin Jardine

Private Investigations

One

I’ve never felt more positive than I did when I left home that day for the start of my working week; I was the new Bob Skinner, new career, new attitude, new life; I’d turned a corner.

A couple of months before, I’d been in a proper mess, in such a confused state of mind that I’d taken myself off to Spain to sort myself out, and to try to shape a new life plan.

One exciting road trip with a friend was all it had taken. A different environment, a new challenge, and a satisfactory solution to a seemingly insoluble problem, and I felt that I was back in shape. When our journey was over, I had made a clear decision to walk away from the police service, for good. I even had a new job, part-time, one that was ideally suited to a man of my talents and experience.

Best of all, for the first time in years I had a secure and happy home life. I was reunited with my ex-wife Sarah, the mother of two of my five kids. Although she still had her own house in Edinburgh, we were spending more and more time en famille in Gullane.

Okay, my oldest son was a few months into a prison sentence, and his mother was about to marry a gangster, but isn’t it true that perfection can lead too easily to complacency?

I had set out that morning to spend some time in my office. The new employment? I am a director of a Spanish company, InterMedia, of which my friend Xavi Aislado is chief executive. It owns the Saltire newspaper in Edinburgh, but that’s only a small piece of its portfolio of online and printed newspaper titles, plus radio and TV stations, across Spain and Italy. It’s a real job; I have independent oversight of all group investigative activity, and I instruct young journalists on developing relationships with police that do not rely on brown envelopes changing hands.

Contractually it’s on a one day a week basis, but in practice I contribute more than that. I have a base in the Saltire building in Fountainbridge, and I share a secretary with June Crampsey, the managing editor.

That’s where I was headed on the Monday it all kicked off. I planned to spend the morning finalising a training manual I’d written, preparing it for translation into Spanish, Catalan and Italian, before moving on to a working lunch with an old acquaintance.

He had contacted me a couple of weeks earlier, asking for my help with what he had described only as ‘a certain situation’. It had taken that long for him to find time to meet me, so I assumed that whatever it was, it couldn’t be too pressing.

Before she left for work that morning, Sarah asked me to do her a favour. ‘Honey, I have a sudden, uncontrollable craving,’ she confessed, ‘for Marks and Spencer lemon drizzle cake. I woke up with it this morning; it must be the effect of reading Mary Clark’s book. I don’t have time to pick one up on the way in, and I’m not sure when I’ll be finished, so . . . would you be a love and call in there on the way to the office?’

What Sarah wants Sarah gets . . . it wasn’t always that way, I confess . . . although I was still wondering about ‘uncontrollable cravings’ as I cruised into the Fort Kinnaird shopping mall, and parked as close as I could to M amp;S.

Its food store is always busy, even at nine fifteen on a Monday morning: when I reached in and grabbed the last lemon drizzle cake from the rack, I beat a blue-rinse matron to the punch by less than a second. She glared at me, as if she expected me to hand it over. I smiled and shook my head.

‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘but my future happiness may depend on this.’

She sniffed, and gave me another long look. It told me wordlessly that if I died in utter misery she wouldn’t give a damn, and allowed me to go to the quick checkout without a single fragment of guilt.

I paid and went back to my car, laying the precious confection, in its five-penny bag, on the front passenger seat. Before starting the engine, I called Sarah via Bluetooth.

‘Got it,’ I told her, ‘although I had to fight for it.’

‘I’ll bet,’ she chuckled. ‘Those cakes go like crazy.’

‘So, this craving of yours . . .’ I ventured. ‘Should I read anything into that?’

‘No, you should not,’ she replied, still with a smile in her voice. ‘As if . . .’

‘Why not?’ I said. ‘We have an extra room in Gullane.’

‘Which we could need this year,’ she countered, ‘when Ignacio comes out of the young offenders place.’

She had a point. Ignacio is the teenage son I never knew about until we met last year in Spain, by which time his reckless mother, Mia, had allowed his life to become seriously fucked up; he was going to need a secure roof over his head, and I did not want it to be hers. She was about to marry a man named Cameron ‘Grandpa’ McCullough, a millionaire Dundee businessman, whose legitimate enterprises had been built with cash laundered from serious organised crime. Better coppers than I had tried to put Grandpa in jail, but none had ever succeeded.

Initially, I had decided not to visit Ignacio in prison; my reasoning was that he’d be endangered if he was revealed as the offspring of a very senior cop. However, a few months into his sentence, I realised that we could waste no more time bonding, and a cooperative governor had allowed us private meetings, away from the open hall where routine visits took place.

‘He and I will discuss that next week,’ I told Sarah, ‘but you have a point. See you tonight.’

I ended the call, and turned on the engine, letting it warm up for a few seconds. With my foot on the brake, I slipped the lever from P for Park, into R for Reverse, then checked my mirrors, all three of them, and the screen that shows the view from my car’s reversing camera.

Satisfied that all was clear I began to reverse out of my space, slowly. I had travelled no more than a yard when, on the edge of my vision, I saw it coming, a red car travelling towards me at a speed that was way too high for a shopping mall park.

I braked, instantly, but it was too late; the idiot, a man in a hoodie, I registered, caught the nearside corner of my rear bumper, bounced off it sideways, into the middle of the narrow carriageway and stopped, just in time to avoid hitting a Grand Cherokee that was coming in the other direction.

The law is imperfect; whatever the constitution may declare, there are occasions where there is indeed an assumption of guilt, and that situation was one of them. I’d driven with due care and attention, yet I was well aware that insurance companies, and all too often the courts, take the view that the reversing driver is in the wrong, automatically. When I was a chief constable, I instructed my traffic officers that every incident should be approached with an open mind, but those damn insurers paid no attention.

My car, a nice silver Mercedes, was less than six weeks old, yet there it was with damage to its rear end, thanks to some clown who didn’t know the difference between a shopping centre car park and Brands fucking Hatch . . . and chances were, the bloody insurers were going to pin the blame on me!

Worst of all, the bag on the passenger seat had hit the gear lever, bursting it open and smashing Sarah’s precious lemon drizzle cake. That lit my fuse; I’d been a happy family man, joking with the love of my life, only to become, in the space of a few seconds, an explosion waiting to happen.

I popped my seat belt and stepped out, ready to do battle with the stock car driver in the red car; it was a BMW, I noticed, with a few years on the clock. I was ready for whatever story the bloke came up with, ready for a confrontation, ready to blow him out.

I waited for him to climb out and face me. To my surprise, he didn’t; instead he began to move forward, blasting his horn at the Grand Cherokee that was blocking the roadway, as if the sound could push it backwards. The big jeep didn’t move. Its lady owner sat behind her steering wheel, looking bewildered and a little frightened.

Giving her a wave and a sign that I hoped she would read as ‘Stay where you are’, I moved towards the Beamer. Its driver, seeing no way forward, started to reverse, but got no further than a couple of yards before slamming hard into a Mini that had come to a halt behind him. He was trapped; no escape route.

We made eye contact as I advanced on him. I saw a thin, sharp, youngish Caucasian face within the hood, eyes narrowed. I guess he saw a tall, angry, grey-haired bloke in a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie.

My view of him lasted for only a couple of seconds, for as long as it took a cloud that had obscured the low winter sun to pass by, and for a ray of light to hit the red car’s windscreen, reflecting into my eyes and blinding me momentarily.

I took a couple of steps to my left to escape it; by the time my vision had cleared the man was out of his car and legging it across the park. I gave a moment’s thought to chasing him, but abandoned the idea, for he was moving like a bat out of hell. I still go out running along the coastline in front of my house, but I never was a sprinter. I knew that he had too big a start, plus he had at least twenty-five years on me.

Instead I walked round to the Mini. Its bonnet had been crunched, and its engine had stopped, probably stalled on impact. The driver was also a lady, but older than the Grand Cherokee’s pilot. She was white haired and in her seventies, I guessed.

She was shocked. She stared straight ahead, hea ...

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