The doctor had said her blood pressure was a bit high, suggested exercise. So she'd started coming into work an hour early, spending that time in the gym. The Commonwealth Pool was just down the road, and she'd promised herself she'd start swimming there. "I eat fine," she'd told her doctor.
"Try making a list over the course of a week," he'd said. So far, she hadn't bothered. And she kept forgetting her swimsuit, too. All too easy to blame Martin Fairstone. Fairstone: in court on two charges-housebreaking and assault.
One of the neighbors challenging him as he left the flat he'd just looted; Fairstone smashing the woman's head into a wall, stamping on her face so hard the sole of one sneaker left its impression. Siobhan giving evidence, doing her best. But they hadn't recovered the shoe, and none of the haul from the flat had turned up in Fairstone's home. The neighbor had given a description of her attacker, then had picked out Fairstone's mug shot, later on choosing him again at the ID parade.
There were problems, which the procurator fiscal's office had been quick to identify. No evidence at the scene. Nothing to link Fairstone to the crimes except an ID and the fact that he was a known house-breaker with several convictions for assault.
"The shoe would have been nice." The fiscal depute had scratched at his beard and asked if they might try dropping either of the charges, maybe do a deal.
"And he gets a cuff round the ear and heads back home?" Siobhan had argued.
In court it was pointed out to Siobhan by the defense that the neighbor's original description of her attacker bore little resemblance to the figure in the dock. The victim herself fared little better, admitting to a margin of uncertainty that the defense exploited to the full. When giving her own evidence, Siobhan used as many hints as she could to let everyone know that the defendant had a history. Eventually, the judge couldn't ignore the remonstrations by the defense counsel.
"You're on a final warning, Detective Sergeant Clarke," he had said. "So unless you have some reason why you wish to scupper the Crown's chances in this case, I suggest you choose your answers more carefully from now on."
Fairstone had just glared at her, knowing full well what she was trying to do. And afterwards, the not-guilty verdict delivered, he'd bounded out of the court building as if there were springs in the heels of his brand-new sneakers. He'd grabbed Siobhan by the shoulder to stop her from walking away.
"That's assault," she'd told him, trying not to show how furious and frustrated she felt.
"Thanks for helping me get off in there," he'd said. "Maybe I can return the favor someday. I'm off to the pub to celebrate. What's your poison?"
"Drop down the nearest sewer, will you?" "I think I'm in love." A grin spreading to cover his narrow face. Someone called to him: his girlfriend. Bottle-blond hair, black track-suit.
Pack of cigs in one hand, mobile phone to her ear. She'd provided his alibi for the time of the attack. So had two of his friends. "Looks like you're wanted." "It's you I want, Shiv."
"You want me?" She waited till he nodded. "Then invite me along next time you're going to beat up a complete stranger." "Give me your phone number." "I'm in the book--under 'Police.'"
"Marty!" His girlfriend's snarl. "Be seeing you, Shiv." Still grinning, he walked backwards for a few paces, then turned away. Siobhan had headed straight back over to St. Leonard's to reacquaint herself with his file. An hour later, the switchboard had put through a call. It was him, phoning from a bar. She'd put the receiver down. Ten minutes later, he'd called again . . . and then another ten after that.
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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