In what light was left, Rebus looked at Queensberry House. Its grey harled walls looked unloved. There was grass growing from its gutters. It was huge, yet he couldn't remember having seen it before, though he'd driven past it probably several hundred times in his life.
"My wife used to work here," another of the group said, "when it was a hospital." The informant was Detective Sergeant Joseph Dickie, who was based at Gayfield Square. He'd successfully contrived to miss two out of the first four meetings of the PPLC - the Policing of Parliament Liaison Committee. By some arcane law of bureaucratic semantics, the PPLC was actually a subcommittee, one of many which had been set up to advise on security matters pertaining to the Scottish Parliament. There were eight members of the PPLC, including one Scottish Office official and a shadowy figure who claimed to be from Scotland Yard, though when Rebus had phoned the Met in London, he'd been unable to trace him. Rebus's bet was that the man - Alee Carmoodie - was MIS. Carmoodie wasn't here today, and neither was Peter Brent, the sharp-faced and sharper-suited Scottish Office representative. Brent, for his sins, sat on several of the subcommittees, and had begged off today's tour with the compelling excuse that he'd been through it twice before when accompanying visiting dignitaries.
Making up the party today were the three final members of the PPLC. DS Ellen Wylie was from C Division HQ in Torphichen Place. It didn't seem to bother her that she was the only woman on the team. She treated it like any other task, raising good points at the meetings and asking questions to which no one seemed to have any answers. DC Grant Hood was from Rebus's own station, St Leonard's. Two of them, because St Leonard's was the closest station to the Holyrood site, and the parliament would be part of their beat. Though Rebus worked in the same office as Hood, he didn't know him well. They'd not often shared the same shift. But Rebus did know the last member of the PPLC, Dl Bobby Hogan from D Division in Leith. At the first meeting, Hogan had pulled Rebus to one side.
"What the hell are we doing here?"
"I'm serving time," Rebus had answered. "What about you?"
Hogan was scoping out the room. "Christ, man, look at them. We're Old Testament by comparison."
Smiling now at the memory, Rebus caught Hogan's eye and winked. Hogan shook his head almost imperceptibly. Rebus knew what he was thinking: waste of time. Almost everything was a waste of time for Bobby Hogan.
"If you'll follow me," Gilfillan was saying, "we can take a look indoors."
Which, to Rebus's mind, really was a waste of time. The committee having been set up, things had to be found for them to do. So here they were wandering through the dank interior of Queensberry House, their way lit irregularly by unsafe-looking strip lights and the torch carried by Gilfillan. As they climbed the stairwell - nobody wanted to use the lift - Rebus found himself paired with Joe Dickie, who asked a question he'd asked before.
"Put in your exes yet?" By which he meant the claim for expenses.
"No," Rebus admitted.
"Sooner you do, sooner they'll cough up."
Dickie seemed to spend half his time at their meetings totting up figures on his pad of paper. Rebus had never seen the man write down anything as mundane as a phrase or sentence. Dickie was late thirties, big-framed with a head like an artillery shell stood on end. His black hair was cropped close to the skull and his eyes were as small and rounded as a china doll's. Rebus had tried the comparison out on Bobby Hogan, who'd commented that any doll resembling Joe Dickie would "give a bairn nightmares".
"I'm a grown-up," Hogan had continued, "and he still scares me."
Climbing the stairs. Rebus smiled again. Yes, he was glad to have Bobby Hogan around.
Set In Darkness by Ian Rankin. Copyright Ian Rankin 2000. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be reproduced without permission from the publisher, St Martin's Press.
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