"I'm assuming it's about Martin Fairstone," she said, beating Templer to the opening jab of the bout. When Templer stayed quiet, she went in again. "I had nothing to do with--" "Where's John?" Templer interrupted sharply. Siobhan just swallowed.
"He's not at his flat," Templer continued. "I sent someone round there to check. Yet according to you, he's taken a couple of days' sick leave. Where is he, Siobhan?"
"The thing is, two nights ago Martin Fairstone was seen in a bar. Nothing unusual in that, except that his companion bore a striking resemblance to Detective Inspector John Rebus. Couple of hours later, Fairstone's being fried alive in the kitchen of his house." She paused. "Always supposing he was alive when the fire started." "Ma'am, I really don't-"
"John likes to look out for you, doesn't he, Siobhan? Nothing wrong in that. John's got this knight-in-tarnished-armor thing, hasn't he? Always has to be looking for another dragon to fight." "This doesn't have anything to do with DI Rebus, ma'am." "Then what's he hiding from?"
"I'm not aware that he's hiding at all." "But you've seen him?" It was a question, but only just. Templer allowed herself a winning smile. "I'd put money on it." "He's really not well enough to come in," Siobhan parried, aware that her punches were losing much of their previous force. "If he can't come here, I'm quite willing for you to take me to him."
Siobhan felt her shoulders sag. "I need to talk to him first." Templer was shaking her head. "This isn't something you can negotiate, Siobhan. According to you, Fairstone was stalking you. He gave you that black eye." Siobhan raised an involuntary hand towards her left cheekbone. The marks were fading; she knew they were more like shadows now. They could be hidden with makeup or explained by tiredness. But she still saw them when she looked in the mirror. "Now he's dead," Templer was continuing. "In a house fire, possibly suspicious. So you can see that I have to talk to anyone who saw him that night." Another pause. "When was the last time you saw him, Siobhan?"
"Which one--Fairstone or DI Rebus?" "Both, if you like."
Siobhan didn't say anything. Her hands went to clasp the metal arms of her chair, but she realized it had no arms. A new chair, less comfortable than the old one. Then she saw that Templer's chair was new, too, and set an inch or two higher than before. A little trick to give her an edge over any visitor ...which meant the chief super felt the need of such props.
"I don't think I'm prepared to answer, ma'am." Siobhan paused. "With respect." She got to her feet, wondering whether she'd sit down again if told to.
"That's very disappointing, DS Clarke." Templer's voice was cold, no more first names. "You'll tell John we've had a word?" "If you want me to."
"I expect you'll want to get your stories straight, prior to any inquiry." Siobhan acknowledged the threat with a nod. All it needed was a request from the chief super, and the Complaints would come shuffling into view, bringing with them their briefcases full of questions and skepticism. The Complaints: full title, the Complaints and Conduct Department.
"Thank you, ma'am," was all Siobhan said, opening the door and closing it again behind her. There was a toilet cubicle along the hall, and she went and sat there for a while, taking a small paper bag from her pocket and breathing into it. The first time she'd suffered a panic attack, she'd felt as if she was going into cardiac arrest: heart pounding, lungs giving out, her whole body surging with electricity. Her doctor had said she should take some time off. She'd entered his office thinking he would recommend her to the hospital for tests, but instead he'd told her to buy a book about her condition. She'd found one in a pharmacy. It listed every single one of her symptoms in its first chapter, and made a few suggestions. Cut down on caffeine and alcohol. Eat less salt and fat. Try breathing into a paper bag if an attack seems imminent.
Copyright © 2003 by Ian Rankin. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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