There's no mystery," Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke said. "Herdman lost his marbles, that's all."
She was sitting by a hospital bed in Edinburgh's recently opened Royal Infirmary. The complex was to the south of the city, in an area called Little France. It had been built at considerable expense on open space, but already there were complaints about a lack of useable space inside and car-parking space outside. Siobhan had found a spot eventually, only to discover that she would be charged for the privilege.
This much she had told Detective Inspector John Rebus on her arrival at his bedside. Rebus's hands were bandaged to the wrists. When she'd poured him some tepid water, he'd cupped the plastic glass to his mouth, drinking carefully as she watched. "See?" he'd chided her afterwards. "Didn't spill a drop." But then he'd spoiled the act by letting the cup slip as he tried to maneuver it back on to the bedside table. The rim of its base hit the floor, Siobhan snatching it on the first bounce.
"Good catch," Rebus had conceded. "No harm done. It was empty anyway."
Since then, she'd been making what both of them knew was small talk, skirting questions she was desperate to ask and instead filling him in on the slaughter in South Queensferry. Three dead, one wounded. A quiet coastal town just north of the city. A private school, taking boys and girls from ages five to eighteen. Enrollment of six hundred, now minus two.
The third body belonged to the gunman, who'd turned his weapon on himself. No mystery, as Siobhan had said. Except for the why.
"He was like you," she was saying. "Ex-army, I mean. They reckon that's why he did it: grudge against society." Rebus noticed that her hands were now being kept firmly in the pockets of her jacket. He guessed they were clenched and that she didn't know she was doing it.
"The papers say he ran a business," he said. "He had a powerboat, used to take out water-skiers." "But he had a grudge?"
She shrugged. Rebus knew she was wishing there was a place for her at the scene, anything to take her mind off the other inquiry - internal this time, and with her at its core. She was staring at the wall above his head, as if there were something there she was interested in other than the paintwork and an oxygen outlet.
"You haven't asked me how I'm feeling," he said. She looked at him. "How are you feeling?" "I'm going stir-crazy, thank you for asking." "You've only been in one night." "Feels like more."
"What do the doctors say?" "Nobody's been to see me yet, not today. Whatever they tell me, I'm out of here this afternoon." "And then what?"
"How do you mean?" "You can't go back to work." Finally, she studied his hands. "How're you going to drive or type a report? What about taking phone calls?"
"I'll manage." He looked around him, his turn now to avoid eye contact. Surrounded by men much his age and sporting the same grayish pallor. The Scots diet had taken its toll on this lot, no doubt about it. One guy was coughing for want of a cigarette. Another looked like he had breathing problems. The overweight, swollen-livered mass of local manhood. Rebus held up one hand so he could rub a forearm over his left cheek, feeling the unshaven rasp. The bristles, he knew, would be the same silvered color as the walls of his ward.
"I'll manage," he repeated into the silence, lowering the arm again and wishing he hadn't raised it in the first place. His fingers sparked with pain as the blood pounded through them. "Have they spoken to you?" he asked.
"About what?" "Come on, Siobhan . . ."
She looked at him, unblinking. Her hands emerged from their hiding place as she leaned forwards on the chair. "I've another session this afternoon."
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