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Stuart MacBride

Partners in Crime

DI Steel’s Bad Heir Day

December 23rd

‘Sod…’ DI Steel stood on one leg in the doorway, nose wrinkled up on one side. ‘Thought I smelt something.’ She ground her left foot into the blue-grey carpet, then dragged it along the floor behind her as she lurched into the briefing room: a hunchless wrinkly Igor in a stain-speckled grey trouser suit. Today, her hair looked like she’d borrowed it from an angry hedgehog.

DC Allan Guthrie chucked another spoon of coffee in a mug and drowned it with almost boiled water. Topped it up with milk, and chucked in a couple of sugars. No point asking if she wanted one. ‘Guv?’

She stopped, mid-scrape. Standing completely still. Not looking at him.

Half past four and the CID room was quiet, everyone off dealing with Christmas shoplifters and snow-related car crashes, leaving the little maze of chest-high cubicles and beech-Formica desks almost deserted. The whole place smelled of feet and cinnamon.

Allan dumped the teaspoon on the draining board. DI Steel just stood there, like one of those idiots who appeared every summer outside the St. Nicholas Centre, spray-painting themselves silver and pretending to be statues. ‘Guv, is everything OK?’

Someone’s phone rang.

Allan cleared his throat.

She still hadn’t moved.

‘Guv?’

Not so much as a twitch.

‘Guv, you all right?’

‘If I stay really still you can’t see me.’

Mad as a fish.

‘OK…’ He held out the mug. ‘Two and a coo.’

She sighed, shoulders drooping, arms dangling at her sides. ‘See, this is what I get for no’ bunking off home after the Christmas shopping — accosted by chunky wee police constables.’

‘I’m not chunky. It’s a medical condition.’

‘It’s pies.’ She took the coffee, sniffed it, then scowled up at him. ‘I just stood in something that smells better than this.’

He pulled the envelope from his pocket — a thick, ivory, self-sealing job with the DI’s name in spidery script on the front. ‘Courier dropped it off about ten.’

‘Don’t care.’ She snatched a roll of sticky-tape from the nearest desk, turned on her heel, jammed her shoe down again, and lurched back towards the door. ‘Two hours of fighting grumpy auld wifies for the last pair of kinky knickers in Markies has left me all tired and emotional. Soon as I’ve finished pinching everyone’s Sellotape, I’m offski. Taking the wee one to the panto tonight and there’s no way in hell I’m going sober.’

Allan waggled the envelope at her. ‘Looks kinda important.’

She stuck her fingers in her ears, singing as she scraped her shoe across the carpet tiles. ‘Jingle Bells, Finnie Smells, Rennie’s hair is gay…’

Detective Constable Rennie stuck his head up above his purple-walled cubicle, blond mop jelled into spikes, eyebrows pinched together in a frown. ‘Hey, I heard that!’

Steel disappeared down the corridor, still doing her Quasimodo impersonation. Then came the slam of an office door. Then silence.

Woman was an absolute nightmare.

Allan slipped the envelope back in his pocket. Just have to try again tomorrow when she was in a better mood. That was the thing about detective inspectors, you had to manage them like little children, or they stormed off in a huff and spent the rest of the day thinking up ways to make your life miserable.

A thump echoed out from the other side of the CID door, then an angry voice: ‘Aw, for… Who made sharny skidmarks all over the carpet?’

December 24th — Christmas Eve

DI Steel’s office looked like Santa’s grotto… Assuming Santa worked in a manky wee room with greying ceiling tiles, a carpet covered in little round burn marks, and a desk festooned with teetering stacks of forms and folders. The three filing cabinets lined up along one wall were topped with stacks of presents, all wrapped in brightly coloured paper by someone who obviously favoured enthusiasm and sticky tape over skill.

The inspector was behind her desk, fighting with a roll of dancing-penguin paper and a big cardboard box.

Allan knocked on the doorframe. ‘Guv?’

She peeled an inch-long strip of Sellotape from the corner of her desk, and forced down a flap of wrinkly penguins. ‘I’m no’ in.’

‘Got a memo from the boss.’ He pulled it out of the folder and held it up.

Another strip of tape. ‘Well? Don’t just stand there looking like a baked tattie: read it.’

Allan did.

She scowled at him. ‘Out loud, you idiot.’

‘Oh, right. “To all members of staff — the cleaners have lodged a complaint about the state of the carpets in the CID wing. If I catch whoever it was that wiped dog-”’

‘Blah, blah, blah. Anything else? Only I’m up to my ears in urgent police work here.’ She tore off another length of tape.

‘Yeah, you’ve got a missing person.’ Allan dumped the mis-per form on the inspector’s desk, next to a bright-yellow Tonka tipper truck. ‘Mrs Griffith says her husband-’

‘Give it to Biohazard or Laz.’ She gave the box another lashing of sticky tape. ‘Better yet, palm it off on those shiftless layabouts in GED. No’ like they’ve got anything better to do, is it?’ She stuck out a hand. ‘Pass us the scissors.’

Allan did. ‘DS McRae and Marshall aren’t in today — firearms refresher — and General Enquiry Division’s already passed: they say it’s a CID case.’

‘Typical.’ Steel’s tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth as she snipped a raggedy line through the wrapping paper, disembowelling half a dozen penguins in the process. ‘How come I’m the only one round here who ever does any work?’

Allan just stared at her.

She narrowed her eyes. ‘Cheeky sod.’ The parcel went on the floor, then Steel dug into a green-and-white plastic bag and produced a set of something lacy and skimpy. More paper. More sticky tape.

He pulled out the thick ivory envelope with its spidery script. ‘There’s this too.’

Steel held out her hand. ‘Give.’ She grabbed it off him, ripped it open, and squinted at the contents, moving the letter back and forward, as if that was going to help.

‘You want to borrow my glasses?’

‘I don’t need glasses. How come no one can write properly anymore? It’s like a spider got blootered on tequila, then threw up green ink everywhere.’

‘So what do you want to do about this missing person?’

‘You know what kind of person uses green ink? Nutters, that’s who. Nutters, freaks and weirdos.’ She chucked the letter across the desk at him. ‘Read.’

‘Erm…’ The whole thing was packed with almost impenetrable legalese, but it was just about understandable. ‘It’s from a law firm on Carden Place. Says you’ve been left a chunk of cash in someone’s will.’

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