Fall from Grace

An Inspector McLevy Mystery





To die the death, for naught long time may last;

The summer’s beauty yields to winter’s blast.


The Mirror for Magistrates

Inspector James McLevy looked at his shadowy image in the glass of the window.

‘You are a miserable bugger,’ he thus addressed the standing figure.

Past and through the ghostly outlines of his face, he viewed the city of Edinburgh stretching out below him, the various lights reflecting up into the night sky.

For a moment he thought to see a shooting star far away in the distance but decided it was a firework left over from Bonfire Night.

Of late he had taken to prowling the bookstalls of Leith marketplace, randomly buying anything that caught his eye. His latest haul included some stories by Edgar Allan Poe and a tattered book of Arab legends. Poe had little to offer on shooting stars but the wise men of the East were of the opinion that these manifestations were firebrands hurled by the angels to keep out the wild spirits of nature, which seek to climb the constellations and peek into heaven.

No danger of McLevy climbing any constellation, he didn’t have the puff.

The inspector crossed to the coal fire where on one side of the hearth a black encrusted tin coffee pot had its domain, lifted the thing up and shook it gloomily.

Dry as a bone. And his fourth cup of coffee, some of the grains of which were still lodged in his teeth, had produced no discernible effect on his depression of spirits.

As he clattered the pot back down, there was a stirring on the other side of the hearth.

Bathsheba opened one yellow eye to gaze at this intruder upon her slumber; a regular visitor of the evening, she would scratch at the window for entry, insinuate her elegant presence, lap up some milk from the saucer, curl up and sleep for a time, then slide back off into the night.

McLevy envied her that. He was stuck. She was on the move, a black cat that had crossed his path.

‘Whit luck have you ever brought me, eh?’ he demanded fiercely.

The cat went back to sleep and McLevy walked back to look down at a small rickety table where the plate from his supper had been shoved aside and its place taken by a thick ledger of sorts with red covers which lay open, the white page staring up at him in mute accusation.

To avoid this silent indictment, McLevy concentrated his gaze upon the scrapings of his meal; maiden’s hair and dribbly beards, the coarse sinews of the meat boiled into pliant submission and the water then used to cook the curly kale as vegetable accompaniment.

It was a speciality of his landlady, Mrs MacPherson, who would hand the steaming mixture over to him at the door as if it was some sort of Dundonian ambrosia.

She did, indeed, hail from Bonny Dundee. He had many memories of that city, few of them happy and, in fact, he suspected that these dark submerged hauntings might be more than a contributory factor towards his present malaise.

That and a woman with gypsy eyes.

The page still gleamed white; he sighed, sat down and picked up a short stubby pencil.

Other diarists might have quills and parchment; he had a blunt pencil and an old ledger, which was a relic from a past case of embezzlement

He was in the habit of jotting down whatever came into his head most evenings; nothing that would change the fate of humanity but it would preserve a record of his intuitions and thoughts, perhaps even philosophical musings.

One day he might publish such jottings of sagacity and be hailed as a fountain of wisdom. More likely he would be laughed out of the Leith police station so best keep it confidential for the nonce.

In fact he had kept it so confidential this night, he had so far not written a word.

Time to unburden, but how to begin?

He had read in the Arab book the idea that man was a mixture of the materiality that made up the universe.

It was either that or the maiden’s hair and dribbly beards.

The inspector made his choice, tongue sticking out from the side of his mouth, head bent close to the paper.

It could be his near eyesight was failing, but he wrote anyway. Always the same heading, only the date changed.

The Diary of James McLevy, 7 November 1880

Of all the elements, fire is the least forgiving. Examine hell for instance. Or take Icarus, flying like an angel till the flame of the sun melted the wax from his wings and sent him plunging through the air, which likewise didn’t give a damn, in a downward dive till he hit the ocean and sank like a stone. Water isn’t all that merciful either.

Come to think of it, earth is the only one of four that gives a body half a chance. The blessed earth. We trample it beneath our boots and gouge it like a butcher a dead animal or a surgeon his cadaver, yet the earth does its level best to forgive us. Our sins.

A case that began almost a year ago has come to its natural end, and tomorrow will see the lid closed.

As is often with my pursuits, at times I was like a whirling Dervish, and at others, a mere bystander as Fate rolled out the dice.

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