"I'm sorry, it's the shock."
He knew it wasn't, and he knew he would be ashamed of this lapse of memory for the remainder of his life. He turned away. He wanted to remember her differentlyalive, clearheaded, calm, an anchor in the newsroom, an older woman, once pretty, who had grown into a handsome understated elegance. He wanted his vision of her, hair in a chignon, never a stray strand, no makeup and the only touch of vanity a perfume that Joanne had assured him was called Joy, to remain intact, not sullied by the sight of her in death. And he needed to breathe, to affirm he was alive.
"I need air," he said. He didn't add that the mortuary was thick with the presence of death, and he could only breathe through his mouth, and he needed a cigarette, and he needed a whisky, and he wanted to talk to someone but he was too old to talk to his mother, and he was once again regretting his aloofness, his self-isolation, facets of his character he never saw as a fault, until lately.
Mrs. Smart is dead.
DI Dunne walked with McAllister along the corridors, out into the fresh air, saying nothing. The detective was a good man. And sensitive. He knew when to say nothing.
McAllister refused the offer of a lift home. He wished DI Dunne a good night, knowing it would never be that. WPC McPherson had left. Probably off to break the news to the husband. That seems the lot of a woman police officer.
McAllister took the Infirmary footbridge across the river, the quickest way home. Halfway across he thought, Her husbandall I know is that he is a retired military man. Again he tasted the bitter tang of guilt. I know so little about that splendid woman, and now it is too late.
A church bell was striking one o'clock as he opened his front door. He went to the kitchen, put on the kettle. Remembering his mother's recipe for shock, he added sugar to his tea. Taking his mug to the sitting room, he added a slug of whiskyhis recipe for shock. He threw a log on the embers of the fire, settled down to search for the name. Still the answer eluded him.
She was a private woman. I've worked with her since I came to the north from Glasgow, I liked her, I respected her, but I could never say I knew her. She was always Mrs. Smart to everyoneeven to Don, but I should know her first name.
A calm efficient woman, he had inherited her and his deputy, Don McLeod, when he was brought in as the editor of the Highland Gazette. It took only one day for him to recognize that he did not need to tell them their jobs, and that they could run the place without him.
McAllister was there for a different reasonto bring the newspaper out of the nineteenth century and into the nineteen fifties. It had taken more than a year, but 1957 was the rebirth of a newspaper unchanged for more than a century.
Why in Heaven's name would anyone want to murder her? It must be a mistake.
He had always thought her name appropriateMrs. Smartthe model of an efficient office manager; quiet, well-mannered, capable, able to grasp his new ideas for the Gazette and implement them without fuss. She was fine-looking in an elderly, middle-class way. She seldom offered an opinion until asked, did not gossip, and kept her private life private.
Wasn't her husband a war hero from somewhere in the Far East? Don will know. They've worked together since before the war. Should I tell him? Is one o'clock in the morning too late? Who would want to murder her? Why was she in town at nine thirty on a Sunday night? How are we going to get the paper out without her?
And in the maelstrom of thoughts he kept returning to the question that bothered him mostwhat was her first name?
* * *
McAllister had had little sleep, but he wanted to be early; he felt it his responsibility to break the news to the others on the Gazette. He walked down St. Steven's Brae, brain not quite in the land of the living, the homing instinct guiding him to the office. The incoming tide of Academy pupils on their way to school in their blue blazers, chattering like a flock of starlings, in groups or dragging bicycles, in solitary despair because they were not part of a popular group, in panic over homework not done, dragging their Monday-morning feet up the steepness, parted around and oblivious to the gaunt man.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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