‘I specialize in hidden and buried bodies, remember?’
Extract taken from Time for the Dead
By Lin Anderson
Published by Macmillan
All was silent apart from the panting of the dog as it ran a little ahead, turning frequently to check on Rhona’s progress. She passed two small clearings set up with wooden barriers for the pursued to hide from their attackers during airsoft games. At the top of the hill the trees parted to reveal a grassy clearing in the middle of which stood a wooden fort, where the defenders made their last stand.
At this, the highest position among the trees, the defenders might survive a concentrated attack from below, in much the same way that Scots had defended hilltops over the centuries. Rhona halted here to climb on the pal-isade and stare down into the skeleton trees, until Blaze barked at her to indicate she hadn’t yet reached her required destination.
With the path petering out, the dog now made off into the trees to the right of the fort, its bushy tail swaying.Trying to follow, Rhona was immediately met by a web of interlocking branches which necessitated ducking and weaving, even as she stumbled over rocks buried under mounds of dying bracken.
If you’re chasing a rabbit or a deer, Blaze . . .
As Rhona paused for breath, she spotted Blaze a little distance ahead, standing to attention, the shaggy coat glis-tening with moisture from the undergrowth. The dog was looking towards her, obviously waiting for her to come and join him. Whatever Blaze wanted her to see, it seemed they had reached it.
Rhona began to force her way upwards through the undergrowth.
They had reached a small break in the tree cover. Rhona registered the sound of a burn running somewhere close by. A bird rose with a hoarse call that startled her, raising her heartbeat.
As she drew alongside the dog, it turned to lick her hand, whining a little.
‘What is it, boy? What’s wrong?’
Everything, the answering whine told her. Everything about this place is wrong.
‘Show me, Blaze. Show me what you’ve found.’
A worried Jamie met Rhona at the gate. ‘We thought you’d got lost!’
‘No, although Blaze did take me a fair distance into the woods.’
‘Is something wrong?’ Jamie asked, taking note of her perturbed expression.
Rhona didn’t know what to tell him, because she wasn’t sure herself if anything was wrong.
‘I need to speak to Matt and Donald.’
‘They’re in the office.’
‘What’s up?’ Matt looked up from his laptop when Rhona appeared in the doorway.
Rhona got straight to the point. ‘Did someone get hurt recently in the woods?’
‘You mean during an airsoft battle?’ Matt said, with a worried expression. He looked to Donald, who shook his head, as puzzled it seemed by her question as Matt was. ‘We’re dead quiet at the moment. Just one group yester-day. Soldiers on leave. They really went to town, but they all left unhurt. Why?’
‘Blaze took me directly to a spot in the woods he was obviously interested in, just like a police dog would.’
‘He catches game. Might he have killed something up there? He’s dragged me to a couple of places he’s made a kill and buried it for later,’ Donald offered. ‘Oh, come to think of it, he did ask to be let out late last night.’
‘That could be it,’ Rhona said, to ease their concern. ‘But I’d like to come back with my forensic bag. Take a proper look.’ She’d said this almost to herself, then realized that Matt and Donald were looking at her, slack-jawed.
‘Forensic bag?’ Matt repeated, stunned.
Jamie came in then, speaking directly to Rhona. ‘Do you want to talk to Sergeant MacDonald? We could call in at the station on our way back.’
Rhona wasn’t sure she did. ‘I’ll take another look first. Check if it’s human blood.’
‘There was blood?’ Matt repeated, horrified.
Rhona ignored his panicked expression. ‘I’d like to protect the area until tomorrow morning,’ she told him. ‘D’you have a tarpaulin I could use?’
Jamie was silent when they eventually exited the site after stretching and securing the tarpaulin, although Rhona knew he really wanted to question her further. The problem was she had nothing to tell him, nothing concrete anyway. Just an informed feeling about the scene.
‘You really think something bad happened there?
Rhona tried to make light of it. ‘I think I’m maybe missing my work.’
Jamie’s face broke into a relieved grin. ‘And that’s good, isn’t it?’ When she nodded, he said, ‘You didn’t half scare the shit out of Matt, though.’
Rhona changed the subject. ‘Did you organize the stag do?’
‘I did.’ Jamie seemed pleased to talk about something else. Then a worrying thought occurred. ‘Will your investigation be over by next weekend?’
‘It will,’ Rhona assured him.
As they drew into the square at Portree, Jamie asked if she wanted to eat with him at the Isles before heading home.
‘I have to get back,’ Rhona said. ‘I’m expecting a Skype call.’
Rhona had felt it necessary to give Jamie some explanation for her extended time on the island, although he’d never questioned her himself. And he was no fool, nor was he off-grid. Therefore he had to be aware of the sin-eater case and at least the fact that she’d been involved in it.
Rhona tried to make light of things. ‘McNab asks how I’m doing. I tell him fine, which is true. Although I suspect if I don’t agree to such calls, he may well get on his motor-bike and head back here.’
‘He’s that protective of you?’ Jamie said.
‘He’d be the same with Chrissy,’ Rhona told him. ‘Her wee boy’s called Michael after McNab,’ she said to illus-trate. ‘And not because he’s the father.’
Jamie drew into the square and turned off the ignition.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to run your suspicions about the site past Lee MacDonald?’
‘I’d rather wait and see if there’s anything to tell him first,’ Rhona said.
‘D’you want me to come back with you tomorrow?’ Jamie looked so worried for her when he said that, Rhona almost laughed.
‘I specialize in hidden and buried bodies, remember?’
‘At least we have the burying bit in common.’ He gave her a half-smile. ‘You’ll let me know?’
‘Of course,’ Rhona promised.
The sky was a brooding grey mass as she crossed into Sleat. The pleasure she normally took in the long stretch of road was missing tonight, replaced by the recurring image of that small clearing in the woods.
In most cases you knew you were entering a crime scene, but not always. Like the time she’d been called to the Shelter Stone cave on Cairngorm to view the bodies of three dead climbers. Death had many guises on the mountain, the majority being the result of the weather and the terrain. Not in that particular case, though.
Studying a body and the context in which it was found eventually told death’s true story.
There had been no body in the woods, but there had been enough to suggest there had been, if she respected her instincts . . . and those of the dog.
She’d seen enough police dogs in action to know their response to the discovery of human blood. According to Donald, Blaze had been trained like a rescue dog and the collie had all the instincts of one.
Someone had lain injured there. That was all she knew . . . until tomorrow.
Time for the Dead by Lin Anderson is published by Macmillan, priced £14.99