After twenty-five years as a journalist, McAllister was used to late nights, so when the doorbell rang at twenty past eleven he was awake, reading, and on his third single-malt whisky of the evening. As he put down his book and rose to answer the door, he felt uneasy. Who would be awake in this Scottish Highland town this late on the Sabbath?
Police Constable Ann McPherson stood on the doorstep. "Mr. McAllister. We've found a woman. She's dead. One of my colleagues thinks she worksworkedat the Gazette . . . "
WPC McPherson saw a flash of dread cross McAllister's face. "It's not Joanne."
Ann McPherson knew McAllister and liked the editor of the Highland Gazette; liked his wit, his intellect, and secretly admired his tall dark brooding elegance. She had also guessed at his fascination with Joanne Ross, a reporter on the Gazette, a woman fifteen years younger than his forty-five, a woman whose smile and changeable-as-the-ocean-blue-green eyes and ever curious mind had entered his dreamingawake and asleep.
"Come in." Not waiting for an answer, he went straight to his sitting room to pour another dram.
"Who is she?" he asked after he gulped the whisky down.
"That's why I'm here. We need your help to identify her."
He noted she did not say what had happened and knew this was not good. "I'll get my coat."
Until now, September had been glorious. A late burst of warmth and color and crystal nights, the glens and mountains orange and red and ochre, the islands in the river that cut the town in half, were decked out in an outburst of beauty that made the heart glad. But this Sunday, winter gave advance notice with a grey dreich-damp cold shroud, covering the town and mountains, spiced up by a steady nor'easterly straight off the North Sea that sent even the seagulls inland. It seemed a fitting day to end in death.
McAllister was grateful that on the short journey across the river, WPC McPherson said nothing.
The car park for the mortuary was at the back of the building and dark except for a single faint light above a door marked "Entrance." The exit was not marked, but McAllister was aware of the tall robust brick chimney and wondered if it was the exit, or perhaps entrance, to the underworld.
They said no more. Detective Inspector Dunne led the way down a corridor and held open the thick green doors to the high-ceilinged room, where a mortuary attendant was waiting beside a trolley. A rubber sheetgreen, color-coordinated to match the door and tilescovered the figure awaiting McAllister's verdict. He mentally blessed the deities, in which he had little faith, for the three shots of malt he'd had earlier. Or was it four?
He took a breath through his mouth, then nodded.
The light was harsh, making shadows. It highlighted the look of surprise that McAllister fancied he saw on the brow of her clearly dead face. He never understood that epitaph on tombstones, "Only sleeping."
"Enough," was all he managed to say, before turning and walking out into the corridor.
"I have to ask you formally . . . " DI Dunne came up behind him.
"Can I smoke?" McAllister asked.
"In here." WPC McPherson indicated a waiting room.
The police officers waited until McAllister filled his lungs, exhaled, before putting the formal question.
"Mr. McAllister, do you recognize the deceased?" the inspector asked in a formal policeman's voice.
"I do. It is, was, Mrs. Smart, business manager at the Highland Gazette. I don't remember her first name."
As he said this he felt a rush of guilt. This was the woman he had worked beside for a year and a half. This was the woman who made sure the Gazette functioned, the woman who was as essential to the newspaper as the printing press.
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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