IT all happened because John Rebus was in his favourite massage parlour reading the Bible.
I It all happened because a man walked in through the door in the mistaken belief that any massage parlour sited so close to a brewery and half a dozen good pubs had to be catering to Friday night pay packets and anytime drunks; and therefore had to be bent as a paperclip.
But the Organ Grinder, God-fearing tenant of the setup, ran a clean shop, a place where tired muscles were beaten mellow. Rebus was tired: tired of arguments with Patience Aitken, tired of the fact that his brother had turned up seeking shelter in a flat filled to the gunwales with students, and most of all tired of his job.
It had been that kind of week.
On the Monday evening, he’d had a call from his Arden Street flat. The students he’d rented to had Patience’s number and knew they could reach him there, but this was the first time they’d ever had reason. The reason was Michael Rebus.
Rebus recognised the voice at once. ‘Mickey?’
‘How are you, John?’
‘Christ, Mickey. Where are you? No, scratch that, I know where you are. I mean—’ Michael was laughing softly. ‘It’s just I heard you’d gone south.’
‘Didn’t work out.’ His voice dropped. ‘Thing is, John, can we talk? I’ve been dreading this, but I really need to talk to you.’
‘Shall I come round there?’
Rebus thought quickly. Patience was picking up her two nieces from Waverley Station, but all the same . . . ‘No, stay where you are. I’ll come over. The students are a good lot, maybe they’ll fix you a cup of tea or a joint while you’re waiting.’
There was silence on the line, then Michael’s voice: ‘I could have done without that.’ The line went dead.
Michael Rebus had served three years of a five-year sentence for drug dealing. During that time, John Rebus had visited his brother fewer than half a dozen times. He’d felt relief more than anything when, upon release, Michael had taken a bus to London. That was two years ago, and the brothers had not exchanged a word since. But now Michael was back, bringing with him bad memories of a period in John Rebus’s life he’d rather not remember.
The Arden Street flat was suspiciously tidy when he arrived. Only two of the student tenants were around, the couple who slept in what had been Rebus’s bedroom. He talked to them in the hallway. They were just going out to the pub, but handed over to him another letter from the Inland Revenue. Really, Rebus would have liked them to stay. When they left, there was silence in the flat. Rebus knew that Michael would be in the living room and he was, crouched in front of the stereo and flipping through stacks of records.
‘Look at this lot,’ Michael said, his back still to Rebus. ‘The Beatles and the Stones, same stuff you used to listen to. Remember how you drove dad daft? What was that record player again . . . ?’
‘That’s it. Dad got it saving cigarette coupons.’ Michael stood up and turned towards his brother. ‘Hello, John.’
They didn’t hug or shake hands. They just sat down. Rebus on the chair, Michael on the sofa.
‘This place has changed,’ Michael said.
‘I had to buy a few sticks of furniture before I could rent it out.’ Already Rebus had noticed a few things—cigarette burns on the carpet, posters (against his explicit instructions) sellotaped to the wallpaper. He opened the taxman’s letter.
‘You should have seen them leap into action when I told them you were coming round. Hoovering and washing dishes. Who says students are lazy?’
‘So when did this all happen?’
‘A few months ago.’
‘They told me you’re living with a doctor.’
‘Her name’s Patience.’
Michael nodded. He looked pale and ill. Rebus tried not to be interested, but he was. The letter from the tax office hinted strongly that they knew he was renting his flat, and didn’t he want to declare the income? The back of his head was tingling. It did that when he was fractious, ever since it had been burned in the fire. The doctors said there was nothing he or they could do about it.
Except, of course, not get fractious.
He stuffed the letter into his pocket. ‘What do you want, Mickey?’
‘Bottom line, John, I need a place to stay. Just for a week or two, till I can get on my feet.’ Rebus stared stonily at the posters on the walls as Michael ran on. He wanted to find work . . . money was tight . . . he’d take any job . . . he just needed a chance.
‘That’s all, John, just one chance.’
Rebus was thinking. Patience had room in her flat, of course. There was space enough there even with the nieces staying. But no way was Rebus going to take his brother back to Oxford Terrace. Things weren’t going that well as it was. His late hours and her late hours, his exhaustion and hers, his job involvement and hers. Rebus couldn’t see Michael improving things. He thought: I am not my brother’s keeper. But all the same.
‘We might squeeze you into the box room. I’d have to talk to the students about it.’ He couldn’t see them saying no, but it seemed polite to ask. How could they say no? He was their landlord and flats were hard to find. Especially good flats, especially in Marchmont.
‘That would be great.’ Michael sounded relieved. He got up from the sofa and walked over to the door of the box room. This was a large ventilated cupboard off the living room. Just big enough for a single bed and a chest of drawers, if you took all the boxes and the rubbish out of it.
‘We could probably store all that stuff in the cellar,’ said Rebus, standing just behind his brother.
‘John,’ said Michael, ‘the way I feel, I’d be happy enough sleeping in the cellar myself.‘And when he turned towards his brother, there were tears in Michael Rebus’s eyes.
ON WEDNESDAY, Rebus began to realise that his world was a black comedy.
Michael had been moved into the Arden Street flat without any fuss. Rebus had informed Patience of his brother’s return, but had said little more than that. She was spending a lot of time with her sister’s girls anyway. She’d taken a few days off work to show them Edinburgh. It looked like hard going. Susan at fifteen wanted to do all the things which Jenny, aged eight, didn’t or couldn’t. Rebus felt almost totally excluded from this female triumvirate, though he would sneak into Jenny’s room at night just to re-live the magic and innocence of a child asleep. He also spent time trying to avoid Susan, who seemed only too aware of the differences between women and men.
He was kept busy at work, which meant he didn’t think about Michael more than a few dozen times each day. Ah, work, now there was a thing. When Great London Road police station had burnt down, Rebus had been moved to St Leonard’s, which was Central District’s divisional HQ.
With him had come Detective Sergeant Brian Holmes and, to both their dismays, Chief Superintendent ‘Farmer’ Watson and Chief Inspector ‘Fart’ Lauderdale. There had been compensations—newer offices and furniture, better amenities and equipment—but not enough. Rebus was still trying to come to terms with his new workplace. Everything was so tidy, he could never find anything, as a result of which he was always keen to get out of the office and onto the street.
Which was why he ended up at a butcher’s shop on South Clerk Street, staring down at a stabbed man.
The man had already been tended to by a local doctor, who’d been standing in line waiting for some pork chops and gammon steaks when the man staggered into the shop. The wound had been dressed initially with a clean butcher’s apron, and now everyone was waiting for a stretcher to be unloaded from the ambulance outside.
A constable was filling Rebus in.
‘I was only just up the road, so he couldn’t have been here more than five minutes when somebody told me, and I came straight here. That’s when I radioed in.’
Rebus had picked up the constable’s radio message in his car, and had decided to stop by. He kind of wished he hadn’t. There was blood smeared across the floor, colouring the sawdust which lay there. Why some butchers still scattered sawdust on their floors he couldn’t say. There was also a palm-shaped daub of blood on the white-tiled wall, and another less conclusive splash of the stuff below this.
The wounded man had also left a trail of gleaming drips outside, all the way along and halfway up Lutton Place (insultingly close to St Leonard’s), where they suddenly stopped kerbside.
The man’s name was Rory Kintoul, and he had been stabbed in the abdomen. This much they knew. They didn’t know much more, because Rory Kintoul was refusing to speak about the incident. This was not an attitude shared by those who had been in the butcher’s at the time. They were outside now, passing on news of the excitement to the crowd who had stopped to gawp through the shop window. It reminded Rebus of Saturday afternoon in the St James Centre, when pockets of men would gather outside the TV rental shops, hoping to catch the football scores.
Rebus crouched over Kintoul, just a little intimidatingly.
‘And where do you live, Mr Kintoul?’
But the man was not about to answer. A voice came from the other side of the glass display case.
‘Duncton Terrace.’ The speaker was wearing a bloodied butcher’s apron and cleaning a heavy knife on a towel. ‘That’s in Dalkeith.’
Rebus looked at the butcher. ‘And you are . . . ?’
‘Jim Bone. This is my shop.’
‘And you know Mr Kintoul?’
Kintoul had turned his head awkwardly, seeking the butcher’s face, as if trying to influence his answer. But, slouched as he was against the display case, he would have required demonic possession to effect such a move.
‘I ought to,’said the butcher. ‘He’s my cousin.’
Rebus was about to say something, but at that moment the stretcher was trolleyed in by two ambulancemen, one of whom almost skited on the slippery floor. It was as they positioned the stretcher in front of Kintoul that Rebus saw something which would stay with him. There were two signs in the display cabinet, one pinned into a side of corned beef, the other into a slab of red sirloin.
Cold Cuts, one said. The other stated simply, Fleshing. A large fresh patch of blood was left on the floor as they lifted the butcher’s cousin. Cold Cuts and Fleshing. Rebus shivered and made for the door.
ON THE Friday after work, Rebus decided on a massage. He had promised Patience he’d be in by eight, and it was only six now. Besides, a brutal pummelling always seemed to set him up for the weekend.
But first he wandered into the Broadsword for a pint of the local brew. They didn’t come more local than Gibson’s Dark, a heavy beer made only six hundred yards away at the Gibson Brewery. A brewery, a pub and a massage parlour: Rebus reckoned if you threw in a good Indian restaurant and a corner shop open till midnight he could live happily here for ever and a day.
Not that he didn’t like living with Patience in her Oxford Terrace garden flat. It represented the other side of the tracks, so to speak. Certainly, it seemed a world away from this disreputable corner of Edinburgh, one of many such corners. Rebus wondered why he was so drawn to them.
The air outside was filled with the yeasty smell of beer-making, vying with the even stronger aromas from the city’s other much larger breweries. The Broadsword was a popular watering hole, and like most of Edinburgh’s popular pubs, it boasted a mixed clientele: students and lowlifes with the occasional businessman. The bar had few pretensions; all it had in its favour were good beer and a good cellar. The weekend had already started, and Rebus was squeezed in at the bar, next to a man whose immense alsatian dog was sleeping on the floor behind the barstools. It took up the standing room of at least two adult men, but nobody was asking it to shift. Further along the bar, someone was drinking with one hand and keeping another proprietorial hand on a coatstand which Rebus assumed they’d just bought at one of the nearby secondhand shops. Everyone at the bar was drinking the same dark brew.
Though there were half a dozen pubs within a five-minute walk of here, only the Broadsword stocked draught Gibson’s, the other pubs being tied to one or other of the big breweries. Rebus started to wonder, as the beer slipped down, what effect it would have on his metabolism once the Organ Grinder got to work. He decided against a refill, and instead made for O-Gee’s, which was what the Organ Grinder had called his shop. Rebus liked the name; it made the same sound customers made once the Grinder himself got to work—‘Oh Jeez!’ But they were always careful not to say anything out loud. The Organ Grinder didn’t like to hear blasphemy on the massage table. It upset him, and nobody wanted to be in the hands of an upset Organ Grinder. Nobody wanted to be his monkey.
So, there he was sitting with the Bible in his lap, waiting for his six-thirty appointment. The Bible was the only reading matter on the premises, courtesy of the Organ Grinder himself. Rebus had read it before, but didn’t mind reading it again.
Then the front door burst open.
‘Where’s the girls, eh?’ This new client was not only misinformed but also considerably drunk. There was no way the Grinder would handle drunks.
‘Wrong place, pal.’ Rebus was about to make mention of a couple of nearby parlours which would be certain to offer the necessary Thai assisted sauna and rub-down, but the man stopped him with a thick pointed finger.
‘John bloody Rebus, you son of a shite-breeks!’
Rebus frowned, trying to place the face. His mind flipped through two decades of mug shots. The man saw Rebus’s confusion, and spread his hands wide. ‘DeekTorrance, you don’t remember?’
Rebus shook his head. Torrance was walking determinedly forward. Rebus clenched his fists, ready for anything.
‘We went through parachute training together,’ said Torrance. ‘Christ, you must remember!’
And suddenly Rebus did remember. He remembered everything, the whole black comedy of his past.
THEY DRANK in the Broadsword, swopping stories. Deek hadn’t lasted in the Parachute Regiment. After a year he’d had enough, and not too long after that he’d bought his way out of the Army altogether.
‘Too restless, John, that was my problem. What was yours?’ Rebus shook his head and drank some more beer. ‘My problem, Deek? You couldn’t put a name to it.’ But a name had been put to it, first by Mickey’s sudden appearance, and now by Deek Torrance. Ghosts, both of them, but Rebus didn’t want to be their Scrooge. He bought another round.
‘You always said you were going to try for the SAS,’ Torrance said.
Rebus shrugged. ‘It didn’t work out.’
The bar was busier than ever, and at one point Torrance was jostled by a young man trying to manoeuvre a double bass through the mêlée.
‘Could you no’leave that outside?’
‘Not around here.’
Torrance turned back to Rebus. ‘Did you see thon?’
Rebus merely smiled. He felt good after the massage. ‘No one brings anything small into a bar around here.’ He watched Deek Torrance grunt. Yes, he remembered him now, all right. He’d gotten fatter and balder, his face was roughened and much fleshier than it had been. He didn’t even sound the same, not exactly. But there was that one characteristic: the Torrance grunt. A man of few words, Deek Torrance had been. Not now, though, now he had plenty to say.
‘So what do you do, Deek?’
Torrance grinned. ‘Seeing you’re a copper I better not say.’Rebus bided his time. Torrance was drunk to the point of slavering. Sure enough, he couldn’t resist. ‘I’m in buying and selling, mostly selling.’
‘And what do you sell?’
Torrance leaned closer. ‘Am I talking to the polis or an old pal?’
’A pal,’ said Rebus. ‘Strictly off-duty. So what do you sell?’
Torrance grunted. ‘Anything you like, John. I’m sort of like Jenners department store . . . only I can get things they can’t.’
‘Such as?’ Rebus was looking at the clock above the bar. It couldn’t be that late, surely. They always ran the clock ten minutes fast here, but even so.
‘Anything at all,’ said Torrance. ‘Anything from a shag to a shooter. You name it.’
‘How about a watch?’ Rebus started winding his own. ‘Mine only seems to go for a couple of hours at a stretch.’
Torrance looked at it. ‘Longines,’ he said, pronouncing the word correctly, ‘you don’t want to chuck that. Get it cleaned, it’ll be fine. Mind you, I could probably part-ex it against a Rolex . . . ?’
‘So you sell dodgy watches.’
‘Did I say that? I don’t recall saying that. Anything, John. Whatever the client wants, I’ll fetch it for him.’ Torrance winked.
‘Listen, what time do you make it?’
Torrance shrugged and pulled up the sleeve of his jacket. He wasn’t wearing a watch. Rebus was thinking. He’d kept his appointment with the Grinder, Deek happy to wait for him in the anteroom. And afterwards they’d still had time for a pint or two before he had to make his way home. They’d had two . . . no, three drinks so far. Maybe he was running a bit late. He caught the barman’s attention and tapped at his wrist.
‘Twenty past eight,’ called the barman.
‘I’d better phone Patience,’ said Rebus.
But someone was using the public phone to cement some romance. What’s more, they’d dragged the receiver into the ladies’toilet so that they could hear above the noise from the bar. The telephone cord was stretched taut, ready to garotte anyone trying to use the toilets. Rebus bided his time, then began staring at the wall-mounted telephone cradle. What the hell. He pushed his finger down on the cradle, released it, then moved back into the throng of drinkers. A young man appeared from inside the ladies’ toilet and slammed the receiver hard back into its cradle. He checked for change in his pocket, had none, and started to make for the bar.
Rebus moved in on the phone. He picked it up, but could hear no tone. He tried again, then tried dialling. Nothing. Something had obviously come loose when the man had slammed the receiver home. Shite on a stick. It was nearly half past eight now, and
Excerpted from The Black Book by Ian Rankin.
Copyright 1993 by Ian Rankin.
Published in August 2009 by Minotaur Books.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.