Fright and shame set in at the same time among the villagers. This was no longer a spree, a bit of fun. This was real. This was real blood and gore. Somehow they had expected none from the fight. Hamish Macbeth could wangle his way out of anything. Mothers ordered their children home while Hamish hustled Archie along to the police station. “I’ll phone Strathbane first, Archie, and then I’d best get up there and see nothing is touched. There’s a bottle of Scotch in that bottom drawer. Help yourself.”

While Archie gulped whisky straight out of the bottle, Hamish phoned Strathbane, and when that was over he took Archie, who was still holding the bottle of whisky in a fierce grip, out to the police Land Rover and ordered him in. They drove up the hill to Randy’s cottage, up the winding, rutted track. The lights still blazed, the rap music still polluted the quiet Highland air with its violence. Hamish went into the house and switched off the stereo. The silence of death fell on the room. He stood looking down at Randy, not touching anything, noting the bound hands, noticing the blasted head. It could only have been done by a shotgun. He felt the body; it was still warm. Then he noticed the heat of the room. The cottage had central heating and it was turned up high. Not only that, but a two- bar electric heater in front of the blocked-up fireplace was switched on. “You’d best give me some sort of statement, Archie,”’ said Hamish.

Archie babbled out how he had found the body. Hamish took notes and then began to prowl around the room. There were no photographs. The furniture was inexpensive and serviceable, the English family having put their own in storage and furnished the place for a holiday rental. There was a bad oil painting of Highland cows over the fireplace. The stereo, an expensive job, was probably Randy’s own. Hamish went carefully through the house. The bedroom was as sterile as the rest of the place, apart from a wardrobe full of Randy’s colourful clothes and a pile of pornographic magazines on a table beside the bed. The kitchen was bare and functional. There was very little food. He remembered that Randy ate most of his meals in the bar. He returned to the body and, kneeling down, began to go through the pockets. There was nothing there. He remembered that Randy had flashed an alligator-skin wallet in the pub, always crammed full of notes. No wallet. No papers. Not even a driving license or keys to the jeep.

Hamish sat back on his heels, puzzled. He could well imagine someone wanting to kill Randy. He had humiliated quite a lot of the men, apart from Geordie, with his jeers and threats. Someone blasting his head off in a rage was understandable. But to tie the man up and then kill him! And take every little bit of money and identification from the body!

Hamish at last sent Archie home and waited for the police from Strathbane to arrive. And it was as he waited that he realized that he was in serious trouble. The police would hear about the fight that never took place and his superiors would be furious that a constable should even think about indulging in a public brawl. If he kept his job after this, he would be lucky.

He hoped the bane of his life, Detective Chief Inspector Blair, was on holiday. Blair loathed Hamish and would be delighted to make trouble for him.

The arrival of Dr. Brodie interrupted his gloomy thoughts. “I may as well have a look before the police from Strathbane get here,” said Dr. Brodie. “I assume he is dead? Oh, my,” he said, catching sight of the body. “There’s no doubt about that. Very dead. Who would have done this, Hamish?”

“I don’t know,” said Hamish. “I’ll need to start asking around. I didnae go to the bar much. In fact, I think I wass chust there the once when Randy was there. That was about the beginning of his stay in Lochdubh and he wass buying the drinks all round which made him no end popular. Hear any gossip? Messing with any of the local women?”

“No, but he was beginning to rile people, or so Angela heard.” Angela was his wife.

“You mean, like wee Geordie Mackenzie?”

“I didn’t hear about him. But there was a nasty fight with Andy MacTavish, the forestry worker.”

“Well, if that doesn’t beat all,” said Hamish wrathfully. “I neffer heard about that I am to have a fight with Duggan and the whole village turns out to watch, and yet he has a fight with Andy and nobody hears about it! What happened?”

“You know Andy always fancied himself as a bit of a strong man. He started needling Randy and Randy fixed to meet him in the churchyard. Beat the living daylights out of Andy, by all accounts.”

“Is there anything else I ought to know?” asked Hamish crossly as Brodie knelt down by the body.

“Hasn’t been dead long,” murmured Dr. Brodie.

“That could be because the room was like a furnace. Any other gossip?”

“There was a bit about Archie Maclean.”

“There cannae be!”

“Mrs. Wellington, the minister’s wife, heard them shouting at each other down at the harbour here last night Archie was saying that you would whip Randy and Randy was saying…”

“Oh, go on, man. I can take it.”

“Randy was saying he could eat chaps like you for breakfast. You were a long drip of nothing. Archie said you were, like Alan Breck, a bonnie fighter, and Randy said what would a little shrimp like him who was henpecked by his wife know about it. Archie was drunk and said, ‘You’ll live to regret them words…if you live.’ ”

“Lord! Anything else?”

“Later. I think the great and the good have arrived from Strathbane.”

Hamish pictured Blair and saw the piggy gleam in Blair’s small eyes. He knew he was in bad trouble. He would try to get Blair to keep quiet about the fight that never took place, but he hadn’t much hope of being able to do that.

The slow machinery of a murder investigation crawled forward. A mobile unit was set up outside the cottage. Forensic men in white boiler suits crawled over every bit of furniture and carpet. The rope binding Randy’s hands was studied and pronounced, disappointingly, as being of a kind available in hundreds of stores throughout Scotland.

The long night dragged on. Hamish returned to the police station to type up his report. He waited for the axe to fall.

When Blair arrived with his usual sidekicks, detectives Anderson and MacNab, Hamish took one look at the detective chief inspector’s grinning face and knew trouble had arrived.

“Well, Macbeth,” jeered Blair, “as frae this moment you’re our number-one suspect.”

“Do you mind if I have a word with you in private?”

“Sure, laddie, but it willnae do you any good.” Blair jerked his head at MacNab and Anderson. “Wait outside.”

When the detectives had left, Hamish said flatly, “You’ve heard about the fight.”

Blair nibbed his fat hands. “Aye, I have that. The whole o’ Strathbane’ll hear about it tomorrow. You’re in deep shit, man.”

“Look,” said Hamish desperately, “couldn’t you hush it up? I’ve solved cases for you before and let you take the credit. I could…” His voice trailed off as he realized he had said the wrong thing.

Blair’s face was dark with anger. “I’ve already phoned Superintendent Peter Daviot, and the other reason I’m here is to tell you, you pillock, that you’re to report to him first thing in the morning. Bang goes your cushy job in Lochdubh. He’ll never keep you in the force after this.”

“So I’m not even on this investigation?”

“Ach, man, ye’re aff the force and aff the case.” Blair’s heavy accent grew more Glaswegian when he was truculent. He turned on his heel and strode out. Hamish was left to his gloomy thoughts. Why, oh why, had he accepted Randy’s stupid challenge? He could hardly think about the case at all. Randy had been a brag and a bully. No one would mourn. But despite his distress over his own circumstances, another terrible nagging thought about his own behaviour struck him. What kind of policeman was he? Randy had come out of nowhere and he had never bothered to make one inquiry about him. And yet, wasn’t he being too hard on himself? There had been no reason for the law to investigate Randy. Bragging was hardly a crime. Anyway, it didn’t matter any more. He had better think about packing up. Because by the morning, after that interview in Strathbane, he would no longer be in the police force.


Priscilla Halburton-Smythe heard the news of Hamish’s impending dismissal at breakfast the following morning from one of the maids. Jimmy Anderson, in the course of an interview with Archie Maclean during which Archie had said he would rather talk to Hamish, had let fall that Hamish Macbeth was being summoned to Strathbane and would be dismissed. She, more than anyone, knew what that would mean to Hamish. Some of the

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