McAllister stubbed out yet another cigarette. "I have some news . . . " he started.
"Well, we are a newspaper," Rob pointed out.
Joanne threw a scrunched-up ball of paper at him. He ducked. She missed. They grinned at each other like small children misbehaving behind the teacher's back. Don McLeod looked at them as though he were their teacher not editor. He started to waggle his finger at them, then realized what was wrong.
"Where's Mrs. Smart?" he asked, knowing that for the ritual Monday-morning news meeting she was always in before the others.
McAllister saw he had lost control of his hands. He put them under the table, holding on to the underledge.
"Mrs. Smart won't be coming in. She's . . . " He couldn't continue.
It was Don who understood first.
"Has she had an accident?"
Before McAllister could reply, the sound of voices echoed up the stairwell.
"You can't go up without an appointment." Gazette secretary Betsy Buchanan's voice, although shrill, was completely ineffectivethe two sets of footsteps were already halfway up the stairs.
Detective Inspector Dunne hesitated in the doorway. The uniformed policeman behind him was visible only as a navy blue blur. But the detective, in a smart wool jacket, white shirt, regimental tie, raincoat open, hat respectfully removed, with the face of an off-duty funeral director, made everyone instantly nervous.
"Mr. McAllister, can I have a word?" Detective Inspector Dunne asked.
"Where's Joyce?" Don stood, his body tensed, ready for a blow.
Joyce. Of course. McAllister was furious with himself.
Rob had a flash that this was going to be bad. Joanne's face went pale, emphasizing her freckles. Hector looked as though he was about to cry. And DI Dunne realized that Mrs. Smart's colleagues had yet to learn the news.
"Say what you have to say to all of us," McAllister told the inspector.
DI Dunne took a step into the room. He took a deep breath as though he was about to announce the next psalm, and, looking up at the high window, the one decreed by the original architect to let in light but not the stunning view of castle ramparts, said, "At approximately half past nine last night, the body of Mrs. Archibald Smart was found on the steps off Church Street leading to the Greig Street Bridge."
Then, ever-vigilant police detective, he shifted his gaze downwards to take in the reaction of Mrs. Smart's colleagues.
There was a distinct moan, like a beast lowing in pain. It came from Don. He leaned forward, elbows on the table, head in hands, rocking backwards and forwards as though at prayer.
Joanne stared at Rob, who put his arm around her shoulder.
"How did she die?" Rob asked.
The police inspector paused for a moment to consider whether to tell, then answered, "She was stabbed. I've been told she died instantly."
More as a puzzle than a question, Rob blurted out, "Why would anyone kill Mrs. Smart?"
"We don't know yet," the detective answered.
"Late last night I was asked to identify the body and" McAllister began.
"And you never told me?" Don turned on him with a ferocity that made Joanne shrink back in her chair.
"It was early morning when I got home." The editor knew his mistake.
"We need to talk to all of you. I'll send someone back in an hour or sogive you all time to digest the news." DI Dunne had barely finished the sentence when he felt himself being propelled to one side.
"Mr. McLeod. Sir." The uniformed policeman called down the stairs. There was no response, only the echo of heavy footsteps.
"We'll need to speak to Mr. McLeod, as he worked with her the longest." DI Dunne nodded at McAllister, giving him the responsibility for his deputy editor.
When the policemen left, the silence stretched, no one knowing what to say.
Excerpted from Beneath the Abbey Wall by A. D Scott. Copyright © 2012 by A. D Scott. Excerpted by permission of Atria Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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