beneath his feet. The rancid barbecue smell got worse. And then they were there.

Christ. .

His stomach lurched two steps to the right, then crashed back again. He swallowed, hard. Blinked. Cleared his throat. ‘What do we know? ’

‘Not much: victim’s male, we think.’ Another shrug. ‘He’s been chained to what looks like a section of that modular metal shelving stuff — the kind you get in your garage? Been hammered into the ground like a stake.’

The victim was kneeling on the hard-packed earth, his legs tucked under his bum. His bright-orange overalls were stained around the legs and waist, blackened across his chest and flecked with little glittering tears of vitrified rubber. Someone had forced his head and right arm through the middle of a tyre — so it sat across his body like a sash — then set fire to it. It was still burning: a small tongue of greasy flame licked up the side of the rubber.

The SEB tech groaned. ‘Bloody hell. .’ She hauled a fire extinguisher from a blue plastic crate, pointed the nozzle, and squeezed the handle. A whoosh of white hid the poor bastard’s face from view for a moment, but when the CO2 cleared he appeared again in all his tortured glory.

His skin was swollen and blistered, scorched crimson; the eyes cooked to an opaque white; teeth bared, yellowed and cracked. Hair gone. Patches of skull and cheekbone poking through charred flesh. .

Don’t be sick. Don’t be sick.

Logan cleared his throat. Looked out over the graveyard of burned-out cars. Deep breaths. The long corrugated metal roof of Thainstone Mart was just visible between the trees in the distance, what sounded like Tom Jones belting out ‘It’s not Unusual’ at a disco or corporate bash, dancing and boozing it up into the wee small hours. And when they were gone some poor sod would be up all night, clearing up all the spent party poppers and empty bottles before the next livestock auction.

The SEB tech thumped the fire extinguisher back into the crate. ‘It’s the rubber in the tyre — once it gets up to temperature it’s almost impossible to stop the damn thing from catching again.’

‘Get it off him.’

‘The tyre? ’ She gave a wee spluttering laugh. ‘Before the Ice Queen gets here? ’

‘Doctor Forsyth-’

‘Pukey Pete won’t even look at the poor sod.’ She sagged a bit. ‘Shame. It was nice having a pathologist you could actually talk to. .’

Now the tyre wasn’t burning any more, other smells elbowed their way through Logan’s facemask: excrement, urine. He took a step back.

The tech nodded. ‘Stinks, doesn’t he? Mind you, if it was me — if someone did that to me? I’d shit myself too. Must’ve been terrified.’

A voice cut through the still evening air: one of those singsong Highlands-and-Islands accents. ‘Inspector McRae? Hello? ’

Logan turned.

A woman stood behind the outer cordon of blue-and-white ‘POLICE’ tape, her grey linen suit creased like an elephant’s scrotum. ‘Inspector? ’ She was waving at him, as if he was headed off somewhere nice on a train, not standing on a little metal walkway beside a man who’d burned to death.

Logan picked his way along the clanking tea trays until he was in the blue-and-white area again. Peeled back his hood, took off his safety goggles, then crumpled up his facemask and stuck it in a pocket.

The woman squinted at him, pulled a pair of glasses from a big leather handbag and slipped them on, tucking a nest of brown curls behind her ears. ‘Inspector McRae? ’

‘I’m sorry, miss, we’re not giving interviews to the press right now, so-’

‘I was First Attending Officer.’ She stuck her hand out for shaking. ‘Detective Sergeant Lorna Chalmers.’ A smile. ‘Just transferred down from Northern? I’m investigating that off-licence ram-raid in Inverurie yesterday, looking for the Range Rover they nicked to do the job? ’

Nope, no idea. But it explained the accent. Logan snapped off his purple nitrile gloves. ‘You get the cordon set up? ’

‘And the duty doctor, the SEB — or whatever it is they’re called this week — and the pathologist too: original and replacement.’


Logan struggled out of the top half of his oversuit, then leaned back against the remains of a VW Polo. The bonnet wasn’t just warm beneath his bum, it was hot.

DS Chalmers pulled out a police-issue notebook and flipped it open. ‘Call came in at eight twenty, anonymous — well, mobile phone, but it’s a pay-as-you-go disposable. Unidentified male said there was a “bloke on fire with a tyre round his neck and that” out by Thainstone Mart.’

Frown. ‘Why didn’t the local station take it? ’

She grinned, showing off sharp little teeth. ‘You snooze, you lose.’

Cocky and ambitious with it. Well, if that’s the way she wanted to play it: he swept an arm out at the collection of burned-out vehicles. ‘I need you to get every car here identified. I want names, addresses, and criminal records of the owners on my desk first thing tomorrow morning.’

She gave him a stiff-lipped smile and a nod. I am determined, nothing will stop me. ‘I’m on it, Guv.’

‘Good.’ Logan pushed himself off the VW Polo. ‘And you can start with this one. Or didn’t you notice it was still warm? ’

The smile slipped. ‘It is? Ah, it’s-’

‘Was it burning when you got here? ’

‘I don’t-’

‘Details, Sergeant, they’re important.’

‘Only I was. . I thought the dead man. . I was getting everything sorted and. .’ A blush pricked across her cheeks. ‘Sorry, sir.’

‘Get the SEB to give it a once-over before they go. Probably won’t find anything, but it’s worth a try.’ He struggled out of the oversuit’s lower half, then swore as a tinny rendition of the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars blared out of his phone. Didn’t even need to check the caller ID to know who it was.

Logan hit the button. ‘What now? ’

A pause, then Detective Chief Inspector Steel’s smoky voice rumbled in his ear. ‘Have you still got me ringing up as Darth Sodding Vader, ’cos that’s no’ funny!

Logan pressed mute. ‘Sergeant, I thought I asked you to get those vehicle IDs.’

She kept her eyes on her shoes. ‘Yes, sir.’

He smiled. Well, it wouldn’t kill him to throw her a bone. ‘You made a good FAO: keep it up.’ He pressed the mute button again. ‘Now bugger off.’

Spluttering burst from the phone. ‘Don’t you dare tell me to bugger off! I’m head of sodding CID, no’ some-

‘Not you — DS Chalmers.’ He shooed her away, then shifted his mobile to the other side, pinning it in place with his shoulder while he unzipped the rest of his oversuit. ‘What do you want? ’

Oh. .’ A cough. ‘Right. Where’s that bloody paperwork?

‘Your in-tray. Did you even bother checking? Or did you just-’

No’ the overtime report, you divot, the budget analysis.

‘Oh, I thought you meant where was my paperwork. You know, the paperwork I’m actually supposed to do, as opposed to your paperwork.’

Bad enough I’ve got all this shite to sort out without you throwing a strop every time you’re asked to do a simple wee task-

‘Look, I’m at a murder scene, so can we skip through all the bollocks to the actual reason you called? Was it just to give me a hard time? Because if it was, you can-’

And what about those bloody missing teenage lovebirds? When are you planning on finding them, eh? Or are you too busy swanning about with-

‘Which part of “I’m at a murder scene” do you not get? ’

Вы читаете Close to the Bone
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