Read Torch Online

Authors: Lin Anderson

Torch

Praise for
Torch

 

Scottish born
Anderson’s work is sharper than a pathologist’s scalpel. One of the
best crime series to emerge from Scotland since Ian Rankin’s Rebus.
Shari Low, The Daily Record

Just a few
pages in and there’s a brutal murder, arson attacks in Glasgow and
Edinburgh, a fire investigator with an alcohol problem, threatening
notes and a detective laid up with a heart attack - and we haven’t
even got to the heroine yet.

Not only is
forensic scientist Dr Rhona MacLeod’s workload piling up, but there
are sure signs of a troubled love-life and the nerve-wracking
prospect of a reunion with the son she gave away.

 

Torch

by

Lin
Anderson

 

Copyright 2011
Lin Anderson

 

Smashwords
Edition

 

This book is
available in print at most online retailers

 

Discover other
titles by Lin Anderson at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

 

Chapter 1

 

It was starting
to rain. Emperor looked up reproachfully as an icy drop hit his
muzzle.

‘Okay,
boy.’

Karen slipped
the penny whistle into her pack and rolled up the blanket. She
counted the money in the hat. Shit! Ten pence short.

The Alsatian
was pacing, anxious to be away, anticipating a meal. Karen set off
head down, into the rain. There was an empty building near the west
end of Princes Street. She had been sleeping behind the hoarding
for the past couple of weeks.

The dog started
to jump about as they got near Burger King; tongue hanging out,
eyes bright with excitement. The door opened and a guy came out,
stumbling over Emperor, nearly dropping the precious cardboard box.
He smiled when he saw her.

‘Hey Karen! You
eating?’

It was the Big
Issue seller from outside Waverley Station. He’d told her his name.
Jaz. She liked that, to be called after music. He’d asked her name
and she’d told him. But that was all.

Karen shook her
head.

‘What about
Emperor?’

‘He’s
eaten.’

Emperor was
sniffing the box, so she started to walk on.

‘I’ll see you
later,’ Jaz shouted after her.

When she was
far enough away, she hugged Emperor and he licked her face.

‘I promise,
Emps. Tomorrow. First thing. Ten pence more, and it’s yours.’

The hoarding
was plastered with posters advertising Edinburgh’s New Year. She
waited till no-one was looking, then slipped in behind, swept the
litter off the step and spread out the blanket. Emperor waited
patiently while she settled herself, then lay down beside her.

Through a hole
in the hoarding, an illuminated Edinburgh castle looked down on her
like a picture in a fairy tale.

When she opened
her eyes, Emperor was alert beside her, his ears pricked up, a low
growl in his throat. Someone was moving about behind the door.

‘Easy boy,’ she
whispered.

Karen waited, a
hand on Emperor’s head. A security guard would check the door then
go away and they could go back to sleep. As the door opened, she
quickly reached for her pack and blanket.

‘Go, Emps.’

She was about
to follow when she was grabbed from behind.

‘Not so fucking
fast!’

Emps had heard
her scream and was coming back, but he was too late. The man yanked
her inside and kicked the door shut in the dog’s face.

‘Look what I
found.’

The other two
men turned and stared at her. The smile on the blond one’s face
made her sick. The one in the leather jacket was excited about
something, but it wasn’t her. Behind them, Emperor was barking and
scraping at the door.

Leather jacket
said: ‘Get the dog!’

The blond one
picked up a metal bar and opened the door, just enough to let Emps
get his head in. The agonised yelp as the bar hit the dog’s muzzle
brought Karen to her knees.

Now he was
finished with the dog, the blond guy was looking her up and down.
‘Seems a shame to waste her.’

Leather jacket
was walking away, his mind on something else. ‘Make it fast,’ he
shouted.

The one holding
her laughed. ‘Only way he knows.’

‘Shut the fuck
up!’

Karen felt
spittle hit her face as he climbed on, pining her arms to the
floor. The one behind pulled up her jumper and stuffed it in her
mouth. She wasn’t going to scream anyway. If Emperor was dead she
didn’t care what they did to her.

When she came
to, the room was thick with smoke.

She dragged
herself onto her knees and crawled towards the door, hauling
herself up by the handle, praying it wasn’t locked. When she pulled
it open, a long cold surge of oxygen smacked her face.

As the air
rushed past, there was a high whistling sound like a train going
through a tunnel. Seconds later the back draft hit her, demolishing
the hoarding, propelling her forward in a ball of flame.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Dr Rhona
MacLeod switched on the data projector, inserted the crime scene
tape in the video recorder and pressed ‘Play’.

The output on
the large wall-screen was as good as if she had been at the cinema.
Police photographers routinely recorded a body’s position and
injuries, sometimes catching those who moved quietly in the
background - the scene of crime officers, the pathologist, the
forensic expert like herself.

The body on the
screen was that of a young male. He lay in the pugilistic attitude
typical of fire victims; the arms extended from the shoulders, the
forearms partially flexed in a boxer’s stance. In close up, his
skin had odd white patches left unburned, although intense heat had
ruptured his skull and split his ankle joint, so that the right
foot was free of his leg.

She had
examined fluid from his blistered skin but the results were
puzzling. Some behaved as if they had been made after death, with
little fluid to extract and no positive protein reaction on test
tube heating. Others behaved as though they had been created while
he was still alive.

It was common
for murderers to believe they could cover a death by fire, but fire
did not consume everything. Even the slightest traces of accelerant
could be sampled and identified. The difficulty lay in deciding
whether a chemical detected at the scene was there normally, or for
the purpose of starting the fire.

Rhona stopped
the tape and switched it for the home video Detective Inspector
Bill Wilson had sent round. While the hullabaloo was going on round
the burning Glasgow tenement, someone in the crowd had had the
sense or the morbid curiosity to capture it on video.

She might have
been watching a television drama, except that the expressions of
fear and determination on the faces of the firemen were real and
the flames that roared from the roof of this building were not
computer enhanced.

The owner of
the camcorder had zoomed in on a couple on the second floor. The
man was holding a baby out of the window in a desperate attempt to
help it breathe. The look of terror on the woman’s face still
distressed Rhona even though she knew all three members of the
household had escaped unharmed.

Rhona
concentrated on the flames, their colour, shape, direction, and
intensity. The characteristics of a fire could provide clues to its
origin. She played the tape through once more, pausing
periodically, taking notes, knowing someone in the fire department
would be doing exactly the same thing.

Chrissy McInsh,
her scientific officer, stuck her red head round the door at
seven.

‘I’m starving.
Fancy something to eat?

‘We could try
the new Chinese takeaway on Gibson Street?

‘What do you
fancy?’

Rhona shrugged.
‘You decide.’

While Chrissy
went to order, she began to clear away the debris of the day. She
checked her email once more in case there was a message from
Chemistry about the tests on the fire debris, knowing it was too
soon. This was the time in an investigation when patience was most
needed. And when she had it least. Outside mid-winter darkness
enveloped the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery and the
neighbouring park. The park was frequented by families during the
day, but it became the location for a different type of pleasure
after dark. Tonight the ill lit paths were deserted.

There was one
message in her inbox. No subject title, and she didn’t recognise
the address. She contemplated dumping it. IT services advised the
deletion of any unofficial looking mail, in an attempt to cut down
on the spread of viruses, but curiosity got the better of her.

It was a string
of capital letters.

I C H B U N R T
E B T H

She’d had two
like this already and deleted them both. She tried for a couple of
minutes to make the characters into a word, then gave up and saved
it. If another one arrived, she would try and puzzle it out.

‘It’s got to
involve drugs,’ Rhona said.

Chrissy looked
up from her lemon chicken.

‘Because in
that part of Glasgow it usually does?’

Rhona nodded.
‘If I’m right and the blistering on the victim’s wrists was nothing
to do with the fire, what does that suggest to you?’

Chrissy shook
her head. ‘No idea.’

‘Drug barons
like to control their patch. Beating up and torture is a way of
doing that.’

‘Dr Sissons
said the death looked like a heart attack.’

‘Or a heroin
overdose.’

Chrissy pushed
her food away.

‘Can we leave
the post mortem for tonight? My stomach feels funny.’

‘I think it’s
the chicken.’ Rhona made a face and gestured towards the bin.

The flat was in
darkness when Rhona got home. Sean would have already left for his
gig at the Ultimate Jazz Club. The ansaphone was flashing in the
hall and there was a note beside it. There was fresh pasta in the
fridge if she was hungry. He’d see her at the club.

She pressed the
button to save the messages and went through to the kitchen,
wishing she hadn’t succumbed to the Chinese takeaway and waited
till she got home.

A full bottle
of red wine was uncorked and waiting for her. Sean never drank
before a gig. Playing the saxophone was his high. That, sex and
cooking, in equal proportions and sometimes at the same time.

She opened the
bedroom window a little and pulled the curtains, got undressed and
climbed into bed.

Rhona felt the
cat before she heard it; a long soft tail brushing her face, then
the press of paws as it settled on her chest. She opened her mouth
to protest and a hand slid over it, smothering her complaint. The
cat jumped with an angry miaow to the floor.

‘Ssh now. You
can’t blame the cat for lying where it did.’

‘Sean!’

‘Who else would
it be?’

‘What time is
it?’

‘Nearly three.’
He touched her lips, his own cold.

‘You’re
frozen,’ she protested.

‘You can warm
me up.’

He quickly
pulled off his clothes. She caught a glimpse of chest, of thigh.
The duvet flicked back, there was a rush of cool air and then Sean
pressed his naked body against hers. She shivered with pleasure and
cold.

‘You shouldn’t
go to bed and leave the window open,’ he whispered into her hair.
‘It’s not safe.’

‘We look down
on a convent. God will protect us.’

He laughed.
‘Who’s the Irish Catholic here?’ and buried his face in her
neck.

His chilled
lips travelled downwards to draw in her nipple and suckle it. A
ripple of anticipation encircled her hips. She felt him stir
against her and traced his thigh with her fingers.

He flipped her,
pinning her below him.

‘I want to play
a tune.’

She smiled.
‘What’s wrong with your saxophone?’

‘Your notes are
sweeter.’

Rhona rolled
over and flicked on the light.

‘I was going to
tell you,’ Sean said evenly.

‘When? After we
had sex?’ Rhona asked accusingly.

‘I only got
confirmation this morning.’ He was placating her as usual. ‘You
said you were coming to the club. I would have told you then.’

Rhona was
silent.

‘It’s a good
gig, Rhona. I’ll only be away a few days.’

‘I know. It’s
just...’

‘What?’

He waited,
sensing something was wrong.

‘I’ve arranged
to meet Liam,’ she said quietly.

The name of her
son hung between them.

‘He’s coming
north to visit a school friend before he leaves for his gap year in
Africa.’ She paused. ‘He wants to meet me.’

Sean was
struggling to understand her distress.

‘But you’ve
wanted this for so long,’ he said puzzled.

‘And now it’s
happened...’ her voice tailed off. She couldn’t articulate her fear
even to Sean. What if Liam didn’t like her. What if he hated her
for what she’d done?

Other books

In Constant Fear by Peter Liney
Endless Summer Nights by Donna Hill, Grace Octavia, Delansy Diamond
Lie Next to Me by Sandi Lynn
Indie Girl by Kavita Daswani
1968 - An Ear to the Ground by James Hadley Chase
A Free Life by Ha Jin