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The Sleeping and the Undead
INSPECTOR IANSON INVESTIGATE
IT WAS TEN IN THE MORNING, BUT AT THIS TIME OF YEAR, IN THIS PLACE, IT might just as easily be four in the evening. Under a heavy blanket of lowering snow clouds and in the shadow of the hills the time made little or no difference: everything looked grey ... except that which now lay exposed, with the snow shovelled back from it, under the canopy of a scenes-of-crime canvas rigged up by the local police. That--what was left of it--was not grey but red. Very red. And torn ...
"Animal," said old Angus McGowan, giving a curt, knowing nod. "A creature did it, an' a big yin at that!"
"Aye, that's what we thought," Inspector Ianson returned the old man's nod. "A beast for sure. That's why we called you in, Angus. But now the big question: what sort of a beast? And how a beast ... I mean, up here in the snow and all?"
"Eh?" Angus McGowan looked at the Police Inspector curiously, even scathingly. "Up here in the snow and a'? Why ... where else, man?"
Ianson shrugged, and shivered, but not entirely from the cold. "Where else?" He frowned as he pondered his old friend and rival's meaning, then shrugged again. "Just about anywhere else, I should think! The African veldt, maybe? The Australian outback? India? But Scotland? What, and Auld Windy, Edinburgh herself, little more than seven or eight miles away? No lions or tigers or bears up here, Angus--not unless they escaped from a zoo! Which is the other reason I called you in on it, as well you know."
Angus glanced at him through rheumy, watering eyes. The cold--and, just as the Inspector himself had felt it, maybe something other than the cold--had seeped through to the old vet's bones. But then, the sight of bloody, violent, unnatural death will have a similar effect on most men.
Inspector Ianson was tall, well over six feet, and thin as a pole. But for all that he was getting on a bit in years, George Ianson remained spry and alert,mentally and physically active. Homicide was his job (he might often be heard complaining, in his dry, emotionless brogue, "Man, how I hate mah work! It's sheer murrrder!"), and this was his beat, his area of responsibility: a roughly kite-shaped region falling between Edinburgh and Glasgow east to west, Stirling and Dumfries north to south. Outside that kite a man could get himself killed however he might or might not choose, and his body never have to suffer the cold, calculating gaze of George Ianson. But inside it ...
"Africa? India?" Angus echoed the gangling Inspector, then squinted at the tossed and tangled corpse before shaking his head in denial. "No, no, George. She was no big cat, this yin. Nor a dog ... but like a dog, aye!"
It was Ianson's turn to study the other: dour old Angus McGowan, whom he'd known for years. A living caricature! Typically a "canny old Scotsman," hugging his knowledge as close to his chest as a gambler with his cards, or a rich man with his wealth. His rheumy grey eyes--the eyes of a hawk for all that they were misted--missed nothing; his blue-veined nose seemed sensitive as a bloodhound's; his knowledge (he'd been a recognized authority in zoology for all of thirty years) brimmed in the library of his brain like an encyclopaedia of feral lore. Quite simply, as the Inspector was gifted to know men--their ways and minds and, in his case especially, their criminal minds--so Angus was gifted to know animals.
Between the two of them, on those rare occasions when the one might call upon the other for his expert knowledge, it had become a game, a competition, no less than the chess game they played once a week in the Inspector's study at his home in Dalkeith. For here, too, however serious the case, they vied one with the other, trying each other's minds to see which would come closest to the truth. The beauty of it was this: in chess there's only one winner, but here they could both win.
"Like a dog?" Ianson looked again, deeply into McGowan's watery eyes, his wrinkled face. Old Angus: all five foot four or five of him, shrivelled as last year's walnuts, but standing tall now with some sure knowledge, some inner secret that loaned him stature. Nodding, and careful to avoid the bloodied snow, he went to one knee. Not that it mattered greatly--no need to worry about the destruction of evidence now; the scenes-of-crime men had been and gone all of an hour ago--but Angus didn't want this poor devil's blood on his good overcoat.
Looking up at Ianson from where he kneeled--and had the situation been other than it was--the slighter man might well have grinned. Instead he grimaced, tapped the side of his dripping nose with his index finger, and answered, "Shall we say--oh, Ah dinnae ken--a dog o'sorts? Shall we say, a dog, or a bitch, o' a different colour? Like maybe, grey?"
A great grey dog. Angus could mean only one sort of beast. Ridiculous! Except he wasn't given to making ridiculous statements. Wherefore:
"From a zoo?" Ianson gripped McGowan's shoulder as he made to straighten up. "Or maybe a circus? Have you heard of an escape, then? Has one got out?"
"One what?" The other was all wide-eyed innocence.
"Come now, Angus!" The Inspector tut-tutted. "A wild creature of thesnows, like a great, grey, handsome dog? You can only be hinting at a wolf, surely?"
"Hintin', is it!" the other chuckled, however drily, and was serious in a moment. "Ah'm no hintin', George. Ye want mah opinion? This was a wolf, aye! An' one hell of a wolf at that! But escaped frae a zoo ... ?" He shook his head; not in denial, more out of puzzlement. "Ah've never come across a beast this size--no in any zoo in England, Scotland or Wales, at least. And as for yere circuses--what, at this time of year? Certainly no up here! An' so, well, Ah really canna say; Ah mean, Ah wouldnae care to commit mahsel'."
"But you've done exactly that," the Inspector pointed out. "The piece is moved, Angus. You can't put it back."
"Wolf, aye!" the other snapped, more decisively now. "But as for how she got here, her origin ..." He offered a twitch of his thin shoulders, stamped numb feet, blew into cupped hands. "It's your move, George. It's your move."
"Me ... I say we move in out of the cold!" Ianson shook himself, both mentally and physically, breathed deeply of the wintry air, deliberately forced himself to draw back from the morbid spell, the dreadful fascination of the case--for the moment, anyway. For if McGowan was right, which in all likelihood he was (or there again not, for after all, the Inspector did have information to the contrary), then it was out of his hands. Murder by a man is one thing ... but by a dog, a wolf, or some other wild creature, then it becomes something else: a savaging, a misadventure, simply a killing. (And what of a man and a dog?) But if McGowan was right, then they'd need to call in a different kind of hunter with a very different brief: to kill on sight!
Old Angus guessed what he was thinking--the latter part of it, anyway--and was quick to say, "But first we must try to prove it, or narrow down the suspects, at least."
"Back to the house?" Ianson ducked out into the open with his small friend close behind. The house he referred to was one of a picturesque cluster standing some three hundred yards away across the footbridge. Once a great farm with outbuildings, now Sma' Auchterbecky housed a small community, scarcely a hamlet, in the very lee of the mountains.
"Ah can make a few calls frae there, aye," Angus nodded. "D'ye see the telephone wires?"
"And I've a few more questions for the girl," the Inspector replied, turning up the collar of his coat. He scanned the land all about, noted that it had started to snow again: great fat flakes that fell straight out of a leaden sky. In the lowering atmosphere there was little or no wind.
"A pretty enough place in the summer," McGowan commented. "But in the winter? A hell o' a place for a man tae die. Huh! An' a hell o' a way for one tae die, too!" They stood side by side a while, scanning the valley between the hills. Nearby, a police Land Rover hunched on the verge at the side of the road, also a squad car fitted with snow chains, and an ambulance with its rear doors open, waiting. The blue lights of the vehicles, silently revolving, loaned eerie, intermittent illumination to the handful of stamping, arm-flapping uniformed policemen and paramedics in attendance. Exhaust fumes from the Land Roverwent up in a blue-grey spiral, mimicking the smoke from the cluster of near-distant cottage chimneys.
Ianson signalled the paramedics forward; now they could take the body--its remains--out of here. The forensic lab in Edinburgh would be its next port of call, then the morgue. But there wouldn't be much gutting of this one. He'd had more than his fair share of that already.
"A hell of a way to die?" The Inspector echoed his companion curiously, enigmatically. "Or maybe a weird sort of ... I don't know, justice, maybe?" There was that in his voice which caused old McGowan to glance at him sharply. Something he'd not been informed of, then? Oh, the vet would stand by his claim to the bitter end, that this was the work of a wolf. For he'd seen (indeed he had sensed, felt) evidence which to him was indisputable. But Ianson was the policeman after all, and a damned good one! Anyway, it wouldn't do to press the point; a man can't be seen to know too much, or he might have too much explaining to do. A hunch is one thing, but an assertion needs proving.
"Justice?" Angus let his sharp tone reveal his own suspicions. "Somethin' ye've nae told me, George?" It was hardly surprising; this was the way their game usually went.
Ianson's smile was grim. "Oh, a lot to come from this yet, Angus ... not least from you! Nothing's solved until everything is known." And before the other could question further: "Let's get on over to the house now. We can talk as we go ..."
"I know him," Ianson admitted, as they crossed the footbridge.
"Victim, villain, whatever," the Inspector shrugged. "John Moffat's his name. I wouldn't have known his body--who would? But I recognized his face. Moffat, aye: prime suspect in a murder case in Glasgow just a year ago. Then, too, he'd done it in the snow; a park on the outskirts of the city, in the wee small hours of the morning. The same modus operandi: he dug a hole in a snowdrift, chose a prostitute on her way home and dragged her in. He raped and murdered her. Slit her throat ear to ear. He'd been seen in the park earlier. There were one or two other bits of inconclusive evidence ... not enough to pin it on him."
"He walked away frae it." McGowan nodded.
"But not away from this one," Ianson's voice was grim. "So it's one down ... but it's still one to go."
"Ye're saying that this was ... what, revenge? Which means ye believe it was a man. A man and his bloody big dog, maybe?"
Ianson glanced at him out the corner of his eye. "Maybe," he answered. "Which would put the whammy on your wolf theory."
The other made no reply. It suited him either way. He knew that Ianson wouldn't have asked him along if he hadn't at least suspected a large canine or some other animal. The Inspector had admitted as much.
"I only know that someone protected the girl," Ianson went on. "Except he did too damn thorough a job of it!"
"Someone close to the Glasgow prostitute, maybe?"
"Eh? Aye, possibly. Close to that one, anyway."
"Oh? Has there been more than one, then? Unfair, George!" McGowan tut-tutted. "A man cannae play if the lights are out! Ah have tae know all yere moves."
"One more at least," Ianson said. "Gleneagles, two winters ago."
"In the snow again! And no too far away, at that. A prostitute, was she?"
"Aye. We didn't find that one until the first of the warm weather when the snow melted. She'd been there a month or more. Any evidence had been washed away. Our wee man back there could have done it, though. Again, same modus operandi. But of course we didn't know him then. He didn't come into the picture until the Glasgow thing."
"And that's it?"
"That's it for the prostitute murders ... well, as far as I'm aware. Of course there could be others we don't know about. People disappear and are never found--as well you know." And again he gave that sideways glance.
"But if our man John Moffat wasnae linked to the Gleneagles murder, and if who or whatever killed him was somebody out for revenge, then this new killer can only be someone who knew the Glasgow girl, surely?"
Ianson frowned. "Or someone who knew John Moffat, what he was doing--someone close to him, maybe?--who thought it was time he was stopped."
"No just someone protectin' this girl especially, then?"
"Eh?" Ianson paused and stared hard at the other. "When I said she'd been protected, I meant by accident; by someone just happening on the scene, as it were."
"Ye hadnae thought o' the other sort o' protection, then? That this one's pimp might have been lookin' out for her?"
"Well, it follows that if yere man only kills whores, the girl must be one. And if so, she probably has a pimp. Someone--and his dog?--who was waiting for her when she got dropped off last night!"
The Inspector started, then grinned and took the other's arm above the elbow. Frail as old Angus seemed, the resilience of his flesh never failed to surprise Ianson; he felt the muscles move under the man's clothing, bunching at his unexpected grip as if resenting it. "Now see!" Ianson said. "What a grand team we make! Why, it's possible ye've just hit the nail right on the head!"
McGowan freed himself and said, "Maybe. But it's like ye said: nothing's solved until everything is known." And now it was time to change direction again: "Personally, well, Ah still opine tae a big animal. On its own. A wild thing come down out o' the hills tae hunt."
"I thought we had discounted the wolf theory?" The Inspector was making for the houses again.
"No, you had," McGowan told him. "But me, Ah have several theories. See, if ye'd no told me about they other murders, or that this John Moffat was a suspect, Ah'd still be thinkin' in terms o' a wild yin. And deep down inside, Ah still am."
"A wild one? How long ago since there was a wild wolf in Scotland, Angus?"
"Two hundred and fifty years, that we know of," the other answered. "ButScotland's a big place, and plenty of wild country still. All over the world the wolves are stealin' back down frae the north, so why not here?"
"Because we're an island, Angus, that's why!"
"Is that so? Then explain the big cats on Bodmin Moor, and Dartmoor, and other places. Sheep killers, them--and real!"
"Not proven," Ianson said.
"Proven for mah money!" McGowan snorted. "Ah was down in Devon and Cornwall, remember? They called me in on it. No, Ah didnae see the beasts in question, but Ah saw their handiwork! Big cats, George. Take mah word for it!"
"My God, you'll be swearing an oath on Nessie yet!" Ianson grinned. "They called you in on that one, too, didn't they?"
"That American team? Three months' work there, George. It was the easiest money Ah ever made in mah life! What? A summer holiday on the banks o' Loch Ness, with all found and money in the bank?" McGowan chuckled and smacked his lips, and then was serious again. "Anyway, Ah was only a 'technical adviser.' Ah didnae have tae believe ... no as long as they thought Ah did! But a wolf is no a plesiosaur, George. They big yins have been gone a long time, but there are still wolves in the world."
"Not in Scotland," the other was stubborn.
"Ah, but there could be soon enough!"
"There's talk o' stocking a sanctuary somewhere up north. They'd have tae cull them, o' course, or shoot any that strayed too far. But there's a study on it."
"Well why not? The wolves have been here just as long as we have. And there are still foxes, after all. Even the cities have foxes! Ah mean, is it no ridiculous? The Irish have their Irish wolfhounds--and never a wolf to be found!"
But Angus only shrugged. From now on he would take a back seat and only do or say what was expected of him. He had talked of men and he had talked of wolves, but he'd not once mentioned the creature in between. Nor would he. Unlike the Loch Ness Monster, who really didn't exist, that would be just too close for comfort. But in the final analysis--if and when it should come to it--it would be no bad thing for Inspector George Ianson to have a wolf on his mind ... or even a werewolf. For as a legend the creature was far enough removed from certain other myths to make it unique in its own right. No one in his right mind would confuse an isolated case (or even an outbreak) of strictly medical or pathological lycanthropy with vampirism. It might alert humanity to the one type of monster in its midst, but the other would remain obscure as ever ...
While the Inspector talked to the girl, Margaret Macdowell, old Angus spent the time on the telephone. When both were done they thanked the girl for coffee and sandwiches, then walked back to Ianson's car. It was snowing again and the path was white under foot.
On their way into Edinburgh, they talked:
"No whore, that lady," Ianson said. "She sells booze, not her body. Works at a wine bar in Edinburgh. That's why she was late home: late opening hours. It might easily have been later still, but her boss lets her off early if the forecast is bad. As you probably overheard, Moffat had been frequenting the bar, chatting up the other girls, too, but paying particular attention to Margaret Macdowell. She knew his first name, that's all. She did recognize him, however--barely, or briefly--during the attack, after he'd dragged her into his ... what, his den? And she knew that he would kill her. Before she passed out she sensed that someone was there. And she woke up to ... all that mess! She thinks she remembers snarling and savage motion, and something of Moffat's gibbering. And that's about it."
"Ye spoke to her before the police drove me up here," old Angus was thinking out loud. "Didnae ye get any o' this then?"
"She was tired, shaken, shocked," Ianson shrugged. "Still is, but refuses treatment. Can't say I blame her. She has a few bruises, that's all. She's young and the shock won't last. Yes, I got something of it, but the stuff about the snarling is new. She may remember more as she settles down."
"So, no whore," McGowan mused.
"But easily mistaken for one," the other returned. "A bar girl--all long legs, a backside like an apple, and a half-bare bosom--decked out in a short dress, black stockings and garters, serving drinks to a mainly male clientele. Oh, our Mr. Moffat could easily get the wrong idea, I'm sure."
"A modern Jack the Ripper," McGowan grunted.
"Except this one got ripped," Ianson reminded him, grimly. "And no surgical instruments did that to him, be sure."
"A man and his dog," old Angus mused. "But no tracks ..."
"The snow," the Inspector grunted.
"So, what's next?"
"For you? I expect you'll carry on contacting and checking out all the zoos and wild-life parks in the area," Ianson glanced at the smaller man. "So that we can be absolutely sure that there's been no escape. I'd certainly appreciate it, Angus, for they'll talk more easily to you than to me. As for me ... I'll need to be talking to the other girls at Margaret Macdowell's place of work: B.J.'s Wine Bar, in town. But I've little doubt they'll corroborate all she's said."
"So why bother?"
"Oh, routine," Ianson shrugged. "Who knows, maybe they can tell me more about John Moffat? Did he have any enemies or such that they might know of? That sort of thing."
"Like a man and his dog?"
"Just so ..."
Or, the Inspector wondered, maybe a woman and her dog? On that point, there'd been several occasions when the old vet had mentioned a "she" in connection with his wolf. Like "she" was a big yin, and so forth. And anyway, why had Angus strayed so far from his argument, his original conclusion? Had he or hadn't he given up on his wolf theory? What about his telephone calls?
"Who did you speak to, Angus?" Ianson glanced at him. "The zoo people in Edinburgh?"
"They're on mah list. Ah have tae do it, ye understand, if only tae settle it in mah own mind."
"But in fact you've given up on it now?"
Old Angus merely shrugged.
"Murder by dog. It seems more and more feasible ..."
The Inspector was mildly concerned. McGowan was saying so very little now; probably because he was ... what, hiding something? This was usually how he was before making some surprise move on the chess board. Maybe Ianson should look more closely at the case from old Angus's point of view--wherever that was coming from! Since he now seemed to be making light of his wolf theory, perhaps the Inspector should pay more attention to it.
Except, if Angus was onto something, Ianson felt certain he wouldn't get much more out of him just yet. Wherefore a second opinion might be in order. And if his memory served him, he knew just where he might find a lead to that second opinion: in the unsolved files at Police HQ in Edinburgh ...
After dropping McGowan off at his place in a sagging, decaying district east of the city, the Inspector called in at Police HQ and made a request to Records: for a list of attacks, savagings by animals, of people and livestock, occurring in the last five years. Then a quick call to New Scotland Yard for more information, and by the time he was through Records had run off some stuff for him. Too much stuff: the incidence of animal attacks, usually by "pet" dogs, was surprisingly high.
He spoke to the clerk in charge and asked him about older cases: "Some thirty years ago? I was new on the force, but seem to remember a case somewhere up north that made a big splash at the time. A sighting? A savaging, at one of the wildlife parks, followed by the resignation of a local policeman. He quit after his report was rubbished and he was ridiculed. Do you think you could dig it out for me?"
The clerk, a man thin and tall as Ianson himself, wearing spectacles, squinted at him and said, "Thirty years ago? That's a hell of a memory you've got, Inspector! But I'm afraid those old files aren't on microfiche. It could take a while. However, I'll make a search if that's what you'd like."
Ianson nodded. "Yes, go ahead. If you find the file, you can contact me at home."
He took the sheaf of papers home with him to his spacious garret flat in Dalkeith, made himself a light lunch, then took his food and work both into his study and sat with them at his desk under a huge sloping skylight. Ianson liked natural light best, even when it was the dim grey light of winter. His chess board stood on a small table to one side of the room, with the pieces in position just as he and old Angus had left them some nights earlier. They would get to finish the game eventually, but now there was bigger "game afoot."
Munching on chicken salad sandwiches, the Inspector began scanning the pages of information printed out for him from Police HQ's microfiche files. But after a minute or two, realizing that it would take a while to separate outthe stuff that interested him, and because tonight he intended to visit B.J.'s Wine Bar in the city, he paused to make a telephone call and reserve a little time with the boss of the bar now.
Margaret Macdowell had given him the number; using it, he found his call answered by a female voice with a soft Scottish burr. He asked for the proprietor, and was told:
"That'll be mahsel'--Bonnie Jean Mirlu."
"Miss Mirlu--or is it Missus?--perhaps you're already aware of the attack on one of your girls last night?" And following that up quickly, in case she hadn't heard: "I'm talking about Margaret Macdowell--but I'd like to reassure you that she came to no harm. I'm the Inspector on the case."
"It's Miss," the voice told him. "Just call me B.J. And Ah've heard, yes--Margaret called and told me. Is there somethin' Ah can do for ye, Inspector, er ... ?"
"Ianson. George Ianson. I've a question or two you could perhaps help me with, routine stuff. Perhaps tonight, opening hours? I'll make it brief as possible and try not to keep you from your business."
"But what could Ah possibly know? It was miles frae here, and he wasnae even a regular customer. Just a pest to the lassies, that's all."
"You knew him, then? I really must come to see you, B.J."
She sighed and answered, "Well if ye must ye must, but Ah cannae see what ye're hopin' tae learn frae me."
"How many of you are there ... in the bar, I mean?"
"Four, all girls, and mahsel'. But ye'll surely no be wanting to question us all, now will ye?"
"Probably. But only a few minutes each, I promise."
"Verra well, then," she agreed, grudgingly. "Say, eightish?"
"That'll do nicely," he told her. "Until tonight, then."
But after putting the phone down, the Inspector sat frowning to himself before returning to his papers. Something about her accent, he thought. Oh, it was a very good imitation, but it wasn't the real thing, wasn't the genuine article. Or maybe it was too genuine.
He pondered it a while longer, then snapped his fingers. That was it! B.J. Mirlu's accent wasn't phony at all; it was simply out of date, not quite the modern vernacular he was used to hearing in the city. She sounded more like something out of the last century--out of the Highlands, maybe--like Granny Ianson, God bless her, when George was a lad. Maybe this B.J. Mirlu was from up north, then, and the high-faultin' accents of Edinburgh still alien to her tongue. It was something he would have to ask her, if only to satisfy his own curiosity..
It took the Inspector some two hours to sort through the photocopy files. Closed cases (prosecutions mainly, brought by individual complainants on their own behalf, or by the parents of children savaged by "pet" or domesticated dogs, and a number of cases where enraged farmers had shot dead strays found worrying their flocks) went into one sheaf, and open cases into another. Then this second sheaf was sub-divided into attacks on animals, on people, and sightings;the latter because there was no lack of reports of large, generally unspecified creatures wandering in the wild. Just such cases as interested Angus McGowan.
But the Inspector would have nothing to do with the likes of Bodmin Moor wildcats, great hounds of Dartmoor or Nessie o' the Loch. His monsters--the monsters of his calling--were invariably human. Or in this case, maybe a bit of both. A man and his dog, aye. Or maybe a woman and her dog ...
Before Ianson could look at the relevant parts of the sub-divided paperwork, his phone rang: a call from a friend at New Scotland Yard, in Criminal Records. "George, we got your request," Peter Yanner told him. Yanner was an ex-Inspector seeing out his time to retirement behind a desk. "And I saw the morning's sitreps. You'll be working on that case at, er, Auchterbecky?"
"Sma' Auchterbecky," Ianson corrected him. "Nasty stuff, Peter. One case closed, and another opened."
"Indeed," said the other. "And I suppose you'll be torn two ways: glad to see the one go down, but unhappy that a new one's come up. Like the gang wars down here. We're never too unhappy about it when a bad lad gets hit, but there's always the question of who did it. A pity they can't all kill themselves off, eh?"
"Murder is murder," Ianson replied. "John Moffat's paid his dues, but who to?" He shrugged, if only to himself, then asked: "So what have you got for me?"
"I'm just trying to clarify things," the other answered. "Big dog attacks, you said: animals. But what about lycanthropy?"
"We had this bloke who thought he was a werewolf. A cop-killer, too! That was three, maybe three and a half years ago. We got him ... but the whole case was weird. There were a lot of threads left dangling, you know? But when the Home Office puts the cap on something, that's it, case closed."
"So?" The Inspector's mind had begun to switch elsewhere as soon as lycanthropy was mentioned. He couldn't see any connection with the current case; he had taken in very little of what he'd been told. "No big savage dog, then? No genuine big dog, anyway."
"Well that's why I phoned you," the other explained. "I mean, you can't get much bigger than a werewolf, now can you?"
Finally Ianson's mind focused. He knew that this wasn't for him, yet his instincts told him to follow it up. "You say the case is closed? You got him? So what makes you think that I'd be interested? I mean, lycanthropy, Peter? What's on your mind?"
"It's just funny, that's all ..."
"Not ha-ha, just funny. OK, you're probably not in the picture, so let me explain. This thing with the werewolf: the guy was killed with a crossbow, with silvered arrowheads."
"What? The police used a crossbow?" Ianson was lost again.
"No, whoever killed him did."
"We had outside help, then. The SAS?"
"Not that I know of. Just someone out to get him, as far as I know." And before Ianson could question further: "Then, a couple of months ago, we had this other case up in your neck of the woods."
"What case was that?" (His neck of the woods? The Inspector's attention was suddenly riveted.)
"Murder, up on the Spey not far from Kincraig? You surely remember those Tibetans who got killed, George? Sectarian warfare or some such? Two dead up there in a wrecked car, and a whole bunch of them got tossed out of the country."
Ianson frowned. "I remember the headlines but I wasn't on the case. It was outside my jurisdiction. Anyway, what does it have to do with attacks by big dogs--or lycanthropy, for that matter?"
"A possible connection, that's all," Yanner told him. "It was the same kind of murder weapon: a crossbow. The same silvered arrowheads, too ..."
"Boltheads," Ianson growled, more to himself than to the other.
"A crossbow doesn't shoot arrows but bolts."
"Whatever," Yanner answered. "But a silver bolt killed our werewolf nut, and likewise one of these Hari Krishna types. The other one fried in the wrecked car. It might not mean anything, I don't know. I just sort of connected it up, that's all. A so-called werewolf, and a crossbow with silvered arrowheads--er, boltheads! And your request for stuff on dog or big animal attacks: Scotland, murder, and silver boltheads again. A bit of a tangle, I know, but that's how my mind works."
Ianson licked his lips, then shook his head despite that Yanner couldn't see him. "But what is there to connect the murder last night and these killings on the Spey? I mean, how does our John Moffat fit in? I don't see it, Peter."
"Me neither, but that's not what I'm paid for. I only keep the books. You're the man on the ground. Anyway, maybe I should have kept my nose out. I'm sorry if I've confused the issue."
"No, no, not at all. In fact you've interested me greatly. Let me have all you've got on this lycanthropy thing, will you? I mean, as well as the routine stuff?"
"And the case is closed, you say?"
"Without a murderer? A second murderer, I mean?"
(An invisible shrug). "The guy was a cop-killer, George."
"And everyone involved was satisfied with the conclusion?"
"That's what I told you ..."
"Peter, thanks for calling."
"You're welcome. And this stuff will be on its way ASAP."
"Cheers ..." And slowly, Ianson put the phone down.
After that the paperwork was boring ... for a while. Until the Inspector began glancing through the "sightings" list. At first he would read, shake his head andmuttering disbelievingly to himself put the report aside. These so-called "sightings" covered just about every eventuality.
"Nessie" was in there, of course (as reported by a drunken gamekeeper to the police station in Drumnadrochit). Also feral cats in an attack on a chicken farm at Aboyne; stray dogs worrying sheep at Braemar near Balmoral, and also at the foot of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh itself. And ...
... And wolves seen at Newtonmore, Blair Atholl, and in the Pass of Killiecrankie. Also at Crianlarich under Ben More, and at Carrbridge and Nethybridge on the Spey! Great grey wolves, by God! Half a dozen cases. Too many bloody wolves by far!
So, perhaps old McGowan did know something after all. But if so, why wasn't he saying anything? Or could it be (the Inspector gave his head a worried shake) that he, George Ianson, was simply letting himself get tangled up in this thing--in a load of hogwash, that is? And what the hell, weren't there always boogy men in these out-of-the-way places? And wouldn't there always be a Nessie lurking in the loch? Well, yes. Just as long as there were tourists there would be, for sure!
A great grey dog with eyes like lanterns seen padding the road on a misty night at Newtonmore ... a wolf? Not a bit of it, just a big dog. And the pair spied in the Pass of Killiecrankie? Rationalization: a man out walking his Alsatian dogs steps into the bushes for a pee. His dogs stand waiting; they maybe rear up a little, and draw back onto the verge as a car passes. The motorist--with a dram or two under his belt, no doubt--sees their eyes turn to flames in his main beams. As for the valley of the Spey: why, a man could swear to seeing anything on a misty, moonlit night, on those winding wooded lanes and rocky hillsides! Damn, it was only a year ago that they'd been seeing flying saucers! And the same down in Sussex, and crop circles in Devon and Dorset!
So what was it that was bothering him, Ianson wondered? And a moment later believed he had the answer. He hadn't been able to remember much about it at Police HQ but now recalled it clearly enough. These damned silly reports had jogged his memory: about that constable who had quit his job some thirty years ago over just such a sighting. But there'd been more to it than that. Not just a sighting ... but a killing, too! Not of a man but an animal! And not just any animal but a bison! A creature as big as that, gutted!
As for the location ...
... It had taken place at the Highland wildlife park near Kincraig. Then the park had been the merest nucleus of what it was now; indeed, it hadn't opened properly until sixteen years later. Even so, it had been stocked with a canny complement of "Highland" creatures, many of which had vanished from Scotland centuries ago: brown bears, beaver, reindeer and the like. And bison, yes.
Kincraig. On the River Spey. And these Tibetans had died there, too. And then there'd been those sightings up at Carrbridge and Nethybridge. But as for wolves--and bloody werewolves, by God!--why, Ianson could almost break out laughing at himself. But he didn't, and wouldn't. Not until he checked with the wildlife park that they didn't have wolves, too!
Was that what old Angus had been hinting at? Had he been laughing up his sleeve at Ianson when he'd told him there was a scheme afoot to re-introducewolves into some wild place up north? Had he known that they had already introduced them? In which case he was cheating! What, old Angus? Huh! His "A man cannae play if the lights are out!" And, "Ah have tae know a' yere moves, George." The canny old devil!
It should be easy enough to check out. A call to the park could settle it right now. Except the Inspector knew that something else was bothering him, something out of myth and legend. He snapped his fingers as suddenly it came to him: silver! Silvered crossbow bolts! And you'd need a silver weapon to kill a werewolf, wouldn't you?
So, just what sort of outside help had the Metropolitan Police called in that time to deal with their lycanthrope; or rather, their lunatic? And whoever the hunter was, why had he used a silvered crossbow bolt? Not for the "obvious" reason, surely? Or was he some kind of lunatic, too ... ?
The Inspector sat there a long time, just thinking ... or not thinking very much at all. Sometimes things worked themselves out better that way.
The light was fading. Short days, long nights, and a full moon rising. Ianson remembered it from a night or two ago when he'd sat in here with some case or other: the moon nearing its full, hanging low over the horizon. So last night ... would it have been full?
Now what was he thinking? What the hell was he thinking?
He stood up, stretched, glanced at his watch. God, it was 4:45 already! The afternoon had flown. And going to the window he looked out across the rooftops of Dalkeith, to where a full moon was three-quarters free of the grey evening haze ...
He turned on the lights, headed back towards his desk, and jumped like a shot rabbit when the phone rang. It was the records clerk at Central HQ. "I'll be shutting up shop in a couple of minutes," he said. "Just thought you'd like to know, I found your case file--that business at Kincraig nearly thirty years ago? Will you call in for it tomorrow, or what?"
"No," Ianson told him. "I'll be in town tonight. Leave it with the information desk, will you? I'll pick it up there."
"Very well, as long as you'll sign for it. And one other thing. That constable you mentioned who resigned? I traced him through the pay office ... a disability pension for some small injury he got as a serving officer. He's Gavin Strachan: a Kingussie man, but he moved down here shortly after quitting."
"One of those coincidences. Lives not far from you in Dalkeith. A ten-minute walk along the Penicuik Road."
The Inspector was grateful and said, "Thanks. That takes a lot of the effort out of it."
"You're welcome. And goodnight."
"Goodnight," Ianson answered automatically. And glancing at the moon again through his window, he hoped it would be. It had started out good, anyway ...
Since it was too early to eat, and much too early to get ready for his appointment at B.J.'s Wine Bar, Ianson checked through the reports again. Now he waslooking at cases covering attacks on people. And though five years was a long time, still, in his opinion--based on the number of savagings alone--there were far too many Rottweilers and Dobermanns around! As for the incidence of people bitten in the face ... it was horrific! Worse, several of these attacks had been fatals.
What the hell is it in a dog, the Inspector wondered, that will make it bite a child in the face? And what the hell was it that caused them to carry on even after they'd reduced the victim to a bundle of red rags? The wolf in them, he supposed. The only good thing was that in almost every case where a rogue pet dog had savaged someone, the beast had been easily tracked back to its owner. And nine out of ten such animals--the dogs, that is--had been destroyed. Ianson had never been much of a dog-lover, and he didn't go a lot on their owners, either.
And then there were the unsolved cases ...
But the Inspector's eyes were tired; the rest of the reports could wait; he would take a break from the paperwork and try contacting ex-constable Gavin Strachan instead. He was in the book--several of them were, in fact. Ianson matched addresses with the one he'd got from the records clerk and gave his man a call.
"Eh?" said a rough voice at the other end of the line.
"Good evening, sir," Ianson answered. "Gavin Strachan?"
"Aye. What is it?"
"Eh? No for a long time, it isn't! Anyway, what of it?"
"Inspector Ianson," Ianson told him. "We never met, but I would certainly like to."
"Why?" (Strachan's voice was rough as sandpaper, and full of suspicion.)
"Oh, routine," (Ianson's stock answer). "A case you dealt with up in Kincraig thirty years ago--something that happened at the wildlife park ... ?"
For a moment there was silence, then: "Some kind o' joke?" Strachan's voice was harsher still.
"Joke? Not at all. I'd just like to hear it from you what really happened that night. What you think you saw."
"Think, is it? But Ah told them what Ah think thirty years ago--told the newspapers, too. Hah! Tellin' mah story was like pissin' in the wind. Aye, and it pissed mah career away, too!"
"Mr. Strachan, I--"
"Fuck ye!" the other cut him off, and slammed the phone down ...
Copyright © 1996 by Brian Lumley