‘The Conoboys and Bob and Annie looked at one another in silence. Change was coming. The world was turning’
Extract taken from Barossa Street
By Rob McInroy
Published by Ringwood Publishing
Since last Friday there had been twice daily bulletins about the health of King George V, initally reporting he was suffering from mild bronchial catarrh and signs of cardiac weakness but gradually becoming more pessimistic in their outlook.
‘Oh indeed,’ said Petrie. ‘And now we’ve got a murder to deal with.’ He turned to Macrae. ‘I hope you didn’t have any leave booked, son.’
‘Right then, go and fetch Doctor Murphy. Then get back to the station and see if you can find someone who knows how to use the camera. Ask Sergeant Hamilton to contact Glasgow. We’ll need their fingerprint boys to look at this.’
Macrae sped off as instructed and Petrie turned to Bob and Hamill. ‘You two, hop it. I’ll be in touch tomorrow to interview you.’
Bob and Hamill exited onto Barossa Street and Petrie watched them go before entering the house again and pulling the door behind him and locking it. Bob looked up at the bedroom window and closed his eyes and tried to will away the memory of what lay behind.
He still felt disconnected by the time he got to his home on Jeanfield Road. ‘Gran?’ he shouted. ‘I’m hame.’ He went into the living room. Gran was in her chair by a cold fire, a shawl wrapped round her. She was shivering. ‘I left you some coal there,’ he said. ‘You only had to put it on.’
‘As if you care if I freeze to death.’
There was still the barest trace of embers at the back of the fire and Bob rolled up a couple of pages of yesterday’s Courier and tied them in a knot. He threw them on the fire and lit them and when the fire had taken hold he placed a few pieces of kindling on top, and then some coal. He waited for a few moments to make sure the fire didn’t die, staring at the leaping flames and marvelling, as he always did, at their ethereal beauty. Fire was not from the same world as human beings.
‘I’ll mak your tea,’ he said. ‘Macaroni cheese, aye?’
‘I had that yesterday.’
‘No, you didnae, gran. It was Sunday yesterday. We had biled beef, like always. The carrots werenae cooked enough. Mind?’
‘I mind that. Bloody useless cook. Like your mither. You’ll pooson me one of these days.’
Gran’s illness had grown worse over the past few weeks. Annie’s mum, Mrs Maybury, came in every morning and afternoon to look after her, and she warned Bob of gran’s increasingly erratic behaviour. ‘She was washin the dishes in the bath this afternoon,’ she said one day. On another, she reported: ‘She had every damned thing out of the wardrobe and lyin on the bed.’ And again: ‘She’s started leavin lit cigarettes all over the place. Walks away and forgets aboot them. She’s goin to burn the hoose doon one of these days.’ Bob knew it could only grow more serious, and that at some stage they would need to take action, but for now he tried to manage her chaotic ways as best he could. The thought of being alone was too frightening.
‘So if it wasn’t robbery, what could have been the motive?’ Victor Conoboy sat in his armchair beside a high fire later that evening. His expression was sombre, an intense frown drawing his bushy eyebrows down and closer together.
‘I couldn’t say, sir.’ Bob nursed a cup of tea on his thigh. Beside him on the settee, Annie Maybury, still in her maid’s outfit, did likewise. Bella Conoboy, the fourth participant, sat in an armchair on the other side of the fire. ‘Mr Smithson was a bit of a hermit,’ Bob continued. ‘Never spoke to anyone. Hardly ever went out. Carcary’s delivered his groceries. He didn’t let people in the house, unless by appointment.’
‘So how could the killer get in?’
‘Maybe he had an appointment?’ said Bella.
‘Richard Hamill had an appointment,’ Bob replied. ‘He still didn’t get in.’
Victor tapped his cigarette into an ashtray on the circular table beside his armchair. ‘Could it be Hamill? He’s the most obvious suspect.’
‘If so, why would he ask me to accompany him?’
‘Cover. Make it seem like he’s genuinely concerned. Trying to get help.’
‘Wouldn’t it be better to just wait till the body was discovered? Not draw attention to yourself?’
‘But when would that be? If Smithson’s a recluse? Would anyone notice there was anything wrong?’
‘Joe Carcary, sir. When he didn’t open the door for his groceries.’
Victor nodded. ‘Yes. But that could be three or four days.’
‘I don’t think Richard Hamill’s the type, sir. I know I only tend to see the good in folks, but I’ve spoken to him a few times since we arrested him. He’s always seemed a decent sort to me.’
Victor Conoboy had been the investigating officer for the Kerrigan and Fenwick case, an inspector in the Perthshire County force which investigated the crimes because they occurred on the Cuddies Strip, outside the jurisdiction of the Perth City force. Bob, first on the scene, was with the City police but, at Victor’s request, he was seconded to the County force to assist with the investigation. Although the culprit was caught, thanks to Bob’s ingenious detective work, it was a bittersweet outcome, unsatisfactory in that the killer of Danny Kerrigan was not convicted of the crime, the jury recording a verdict of “not proven”. Disillusioned, both Victor and Bob resigned their commissions. Victor had three weeks until retirement. He was ready for it and the thought of a murder in Perth, yet another, reinforced his view.
The clock on the mantelpiece chimed once for nine-thirty. Victor leaned over and switched on the wireless. A newsreader was speaking in a solemn voice.
‘The King’s life is moving peacefully to its close.’
The Conoboys and Bob and Annie looked at one another in silence. Change was coming. The world was turning.
Barossa Street by Rob McInroy is published by Ringwood Publishing, priced £9.99.