Read an extract from award-winning author Chris Dolan’s thrilling novel
Extract from Potter’s Field
By Chris Dolan
Published by Vagabond Voices
The morning’s sweetness had curdled, the sky a simmering grey gruel. Maddy, heading west, waded against the flow of Sauchiehall Street shoppers. She’d worked till ten on Monday, had taken enough files home on Tuesday to bury an elephant, gone in early Wednesday and worked late last night. She could afford a little time on a Friday afternoon to tidy up her flat before the estate agent came.
Her route took her past the southern edge of Kelvingrove. There was nothing to connect the tranquil greenery, the perpetually dormant bowling greens, with the little corner of horror deep in the park’s belly. Boards outside shops blurted the deadening news. “Bodies Found in Kelvingrove”.
Glasgow spreads like a stain, weeping along the least line of resistance in every direction, between mountains, down valleys, draining into the sea. But there’s a secret geometry to it, a nervous system that makes death in the west felt and feared as keenly in Easterhouse or Giffnock. Today’s double portion was pretty much on Maddy’s doorstep. An incursion into her heartland.
At Lorraine Gardens she admired the street, as she always did, before opening the door. She’d been here for ten years, the only house she’d ever owned. The HQ of the private Maddalena Shannon, hybrid woman. A Mediterranean kitchen – terracotta tiles, colour-washed dresser, pots, pans and dried peppers hanging round the hob – that somehow looked absolutely nothing like a Mediterranean kitchen.
“White’s the problem,” Dan had said. He’d run his hand over the paint daubed straight onto the plaster, to give that Mexican adobe look. “Blue-based white doesn’t work in the north. Looks great in Andalusia, looks like dogs’ piss in Glasgow. What you need’s a yellow-based white.”
She’d salvaged from her childhood bedroom in Girvan a saccharine picture of Christ the Shepherd. Golden-locked boy in a soutane stroking a lamb. The irony hadn’t come off. The whole house was a botched blend of attempted modernity and beefy auction-house furniture. She’d considered making a move, selling up, finding somewhere new. Roddy Estate Agent looked around the flat and said: “Declutter. One little word, one big task. But worth it.”
Inspecting each room in turn, he’d propped himself up against the door jamb as if the vision before him might overpower him. He had the smile of a man consoling a bereaved but distant acquaintance. “Get rid of the books. Only leather-bound volumes sell a property.”
Unread books, in other words. Hyndland had changed. When she had arrived, she’d sneered at the dusty pretension of the place. Lecturers, doctors and dentists with clapped-out bangers rusting between Doric pillars in driveways. Art collections clustered behind unwashed windows. Patched elbows and unkempt haircuts reading on threadbare sofas. The violin and piano practices of a screech of Gails, Robinas and Leos. Maddy had shaken her head at it all, yet here she was, a decade later, mourning its passing.
It was Roddy’s area now. His soft-top silver sports car not conspicuous anymore outside her window, winking between SUVs and Beamers. At 36, Maddy was Old Hyndland while Roddy talked interactive tellies and surround-sound. Maddy blamed footballers. Once, they stayed safely out of the way in the Southside and Bothwell. Since they’d started migrating from warmer climes they preferred the liveliness of the west end. She’d spoken the thought out loud to Roddy Estate Agent, and immediately wished she hadn’t.
“Bulgarians, Hungarians, Australians.” Roddy had rapped on her theme. “I’ve sold houses to Czechs, Lats, Poles, Danes and Swedes. Organised mortgages for Spaniards, Germans, Portuguese, Uruguayans and Geordies. Makes you wonder why our teams aren’t doing better than they do.”
“Cause they’re all too busy poncing up their west end flats?” suggested Maddy. And putting them out of her price range. Still, they looked nice, the thick-locked and dark-curled foreign footballers, outside the cafes.
Roddy scanned his eyes over her bedroom like a client making up his mind in a Bangkok brothel, his gaze resting for a moment on the open-topped Moroccan laundry basket, tastefully bedecked with a pair of yesterday’s knickers.
“Roddy,” she’d said pleasantly. “Could you do me a favour? Could you get yourself to fuck out my house? Thanks.”
She had been the Procurator Fiscal in charge of a murder last year. A woman a little older than herself who had taken a knife in the stomach from a husband who had been kind and faithful for fifteen years. Moving house, apparently, had pressed the hitherto unknown button in his brain.
Maddy was walking the house with a cardboard box and a bin bag. Roddy had put her off the idea of moving in the near future but, bless him, he was right about the decluttering. Ornaments, pictures and old CDs that might fetch some charity shop a tenner were going in the box. Old letters and junk mail, general crap from ten years of living alone, in the bag.
She sat at her favourite window, the bay looking out onto a copse of trees heavy with themselves. She remembered one of her first cases. A twelve-year-old girl, snatched on a street between home and school and left all but eviscerated in a wood forty miles into the Lomond Hills. Maddy had spent nights then in this very seat at the window, weeping violently. But no tears would come now for these boys. Their hands reaching out for each other. Boys like that never reach out for one another, do they?
Walk twenty minutes in any direction from this house and you’d be in their world – Wyndford, Yoker, Ruchill. Twenty minutes to the next galaxy. Young feral males addicted to destruction, the sons of earlier feral, destructive males. They were hard to cry for. That in itself should have made her cry.