Read The Coffin Lane Murders Online

Authors: Alanna Knight

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Historical, #Police Procedural, #Police, #Serial Murders, #Scotland, #Faro; Jeremy (Fictitious Character), #Edinburgh, #Edinburgh (Scotland)

The Coffin Lane Murders

BOOK: The Coffin Lane Murders
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The Coffin Lane Murders

 

An Inspector Faro Mystery

 

by

 

Alanna Knight

ALANNA KNIGHT
has written more than fifty novels, (including fifteen in the successful Inspector Faro series), four works of non-fiction, numerous short stories and two plays since the publication of her first book in 1969. Born and educated in Tyneside, she now lives in Edinburgh. She is a founding member of the Scottish Association of Writers and Honorary President of the Edinburgh Writers' club.

Chapter 1

 

The prelude to each major disaster in Detective Inspector Faro's personal life was a calm wherein all the untidy fragments, the small irritations that clouded every day, were forgotten. The world seemed to hold its breath, as if being alive in itself was a joy almost too great to bear, a burden of gratitude too great to express.

And so it was that Jeremy Faro was to remember for the rest of his life one afternoon in late December when he stood on the ice-packed road above Duddingston village and watched as the sunset came down like blood on the fast-frozen loch.

The eve of the first murder ...

The great city of Edinburgh lay to his right. Behind a veil of mist the rose-tinted walls of the castle were the home of a fairy-tale princess, awaiting a knight on a white charger, while far below its steep battlements history's blood-soaked High Street and dark, foul-smelling closes arose from a shroud of innocent purity, temporarily absolved from all evil.

It had not snowed for several days but the fields that bordered Faro's home in Newington lay white and untrodden, like the pages of a story yet to be written. A dread story he had never dreamed he would ever have to tell.

Already hurtling past him between the snowdrifts on the narrow road through Queen's Park from the direction of the Palace of Holyroodhouse carriages crowded with young people headed towards the loch. Frozen solid for the past week, delighting all but the wildfowl cut off from their food supply, the loch was Edinburgh's favourite winter resort.

On its far side ran the 'Innocent Railway' (proudly so-called since no lives had been lost in its history). Originally it had been a single-track horse-drawn freight line between St Leonards and Musselburgh and a convenient method of transport for the Fisherrow fishwives. The advent of steam locomotion had made it a popular mode of transport with extra coaches for the convenience of fare-paying passengers. Now each scheduled train was crowded with skaters from Musselburgh and beyond.

Watching the energetic scene, Faro acknowledged the ghost of himself among the couples gracefully curving their ways across the ice. As a young man, only yesterday it seemed, courting Vince's mother, skating had offered daring opportunities for a man and a lass in love to hold each other close in the respectable name of maintaining balance.

He smiled wryly at the excited laughter, the distant shrieks of mirth from the loch, the lasses with their shy eagerness, the lads trying to impress with a show of strong manly reliability.

'Nothing ever really changes,' he muttered, addressing no one in particular and nodding in the direction of Craigmillar Castle's lofty ruin. People - the bad and the good - were the same now as when sad Queen Mary, seeking respite from scheming nobles and a bitter marriage, had looked down on this scene from those eyeless windows. The only difference: justice was administered with more humanity, and death by the hangman's rope regarded as a more civilised exit than the torture chamber and executioner's block.

Shading his eyes against the luminous western sky, he looked towards the section of the loch occupied by older, more dignified groups, families with young children, ladies elegant in velvet fur-lined cloaks, bonnets and muffs, the gentlemen in top hats and greatcoats. The swirl of colour and laughter evoked a sigh of nostalgia from Faro.

He had given Vince his first skating lesson here. Dr Vince Laurie who was out there with his Olivia, now a doting husband and father of Jamie Beaumarcher Laurie, their handsome two-year-old son and the apple of Faro's eye.

Oh, life had been - still was - so good.

But where was wee Jamie? Panic touched Faro in a moment of unearthly foreboding as if a veil hiding the future had been wrenched aside. Why wasn't he with his parents?

Heart hammering, narrowing his eyes, he scanned the fast-moving groups.

A shout from the loch. A wave in his direction.

With a sigh of relief, he responded. Away from the main group, concealed by the skaters, Vince's partner Dr Conan Pursley and his wife Kate guided Jamie gently along between them. They moved less vigorously than Vince and Olivia, since Kate was recovering from one of the woman's troubles that plagued her. Not yet forty, Kate was invalidish and frail, her menstrual problems and miscarriages subjects fit only for behind-hand whispers anywhere but a doctor's surgery.

To be childless after ten years of marriage was the Pursleys' one inconsolable grief and Faro was sad for this unjust trick of fate upon a fine doctor like Conan Pursley, who had dedicated his whole life to campaigning against the cruelties inflicted on the mentally disturbed. Refusing to regard them as dangerous or beyond the pale of normal life, he considered most as merely sick of a foul disease for which doctors had not yet found a cure.

The Glasgow institution, where he had worked when approached by Vince directly but tactfully to join the practice, had been eager to give Dr Pursley a glowing reference and recommendation. Even if his theories regarding the nature of insanity were somewhat avant-garde and difficult to reconcile with medical beliefs and treatments which had changed little since the Middle Ages, his superiors had nothing but praise for this most caring of their doctors.

The two partners had soon become not just colleagues but close friends. Conan was the elder by ten years but their attitudes to life and society were similar and they shared a mutual devotion to golf. For that Vince was prepared to forgive Conan's unfortunate relationship by marriage to Sir Hedley Marsh and his wife's decision to live in Solomon's Tower and look after the 'Mad Bart', who was her uncle.

Vince had few secrets from Conan who knew that his partner's scorn for the aristocracy and everything they stood for was based on the abuse his mother had suffered early in her life. Despite the love that his stepfather Jeremy Faro had lavished upon him, Vince remained haunted by a past that no honour, no distinction or hard-won achievement could ever obliterate.

He was illegitimate, the result of the rape of a fourteen-year-old servant by an aristocratic house guest in a Highland castle, at one of the jolly huntin' shootin' parties that Sir Hedley liked to reminisce about.

Conan understood and sympathised. His father had been an estate factor. After bitter experiences of the gentry he had taken his family to Glasgow and set up a successful business as a landscape gardener.

William Pursley had early discovered his only son's extreme interest in natural history, namely the insects and small creatures that inhabit gardens. Accordingly, while their daughter went to work in a local merchant's mansion, they had scrimped and saved to put Conan through medical college.

Conan had met Kate during the summer vacation while working with his father, landscaping the gardens of an aristocratic mansion whose owner was intent on restoring its sixteenth-century features, particularly the Jacobite rose which had figured strongly in their family history.

The owner's only child, Kate, was irresistibly drawn to handsome Conan, seeing him as a humble but wildly attractive labourer from the class forbidden to one of her birth. Hopelessly in love, it was not until the day Conan asked her to marry him that he revealed the truth: 'Some day soon, I will be a doctor. A very respectable profession and I hope to be able to support a wife.'

'The rest you know,' he told Vince. Kate was already an heiress and when Sir Hedley died, she stood to inherit Solomon's Tower. 'There won't be much money in that, for sure,' laughed Conan, for he had no longer any qualms about her wealth. 'If ever I have the temerity to mention it she assures me that my amount of brains makes us more than equal.'

Pausing, he waved to Faro, who stood watching them from the roadside above the loch.

Faro was a tall, slim man, in his late forties, his thick fair hair now threaded with grey, with fine-boned distinguished features. The dark blue eyes were remarkable for their intensity, so penetrating that it seemed that no man could ever tell a direct lie into them, eyes that saw deep down inside the speaker to where the well of truth lay hidden.

'Put a horned helmet on him and give him a shield and an axe to carry and he'd still look out of his time. As if he'd just stepped off a Viking raider's ship in the Firth of Forth,' said Conan, and as they sat down on a fallen tree trunk to remove their skates he regarded his friend curiously. It was difficult to imagine that Vince had once hated his policeman stepfather and there seemed so little difference in their ages that they might have passed as brothers.

Conan laughed. 'Considering his good looks and, begging your pardon, old chap, but he was still young when your mama died, and he's a virile man after all, why on earth did he never marry again? Not from any lack of opportunity, I'd reckon.'

Vince declined the cigar he offered. 'There were one or two promising encounters. We had hopes regarding a childhood sweetheart in Orkney, then there was an actress - and a Grand Duchess. Most recently and, I suspect, best suited to him, although he would not agree, one of this new breed of women-'

'A suffragist, you mean.' Conan chuckled. 'Good Lord. I don't see him with a blue-stocking.'

Vince shook his head. 'This one was - is - a writer. He approves of such ladies in principle but not, alas, as a life partner. Or so he says.'

'What happened to her?'

'It's a long story. She went back to Ireland.'

'Ireland? That's not the ends of the earth. Why, Kate's family go there regularly for the shooting every year.'

Vince said nothing and, aware that no more confidences were forthcoming, Conan changed the subject.

'What was your mother like? I mean, is he still devoted to her memory?'

'I think so. And that he feels a powerful amount of guilt for neglecting her while she was alive.'

Conan frowned. 'Other women, you mean?'

'Not at all. He was completely faithful. Unless you could call the whole of Edinburgh City Police a rival. He always was - still is - passionately devoted to his work. Reading between the lines, I think that has always been his greatest problem where marrying again was concerned.' Vince sighed. 'He still takes flowers to her grave every week. But alas, I sometimes think that had she survived she would never have been able to keep up with his intellect.'

Aware of Conan's expression, he added anxiously, 'That's just my opinion; I'm not being disloyal. But remember my mother was still a child with little or no education when she had me. I was ten when they married and after those early skirmishes we've got along famously. We've seen each other through many a tight spot and I don't mean just in connection with crimes, although my medical knowledge has been of some help.

'I've watched him develop a taste for music, a love of books and good living. He's become a cultured - well - gentleman. Such attributes are regarded as unnecessary adornments and somewhat scorned in his profession, I can tell you.'

He shrugged uncomfortably under Conan's glance. 'Yes, the thought still niggles. If - if my mother's last baby hadn't killed her, what would their life have been like now?'

'True,' said Conan thoughtfully. 'Great passion dies and,' he added frankly, 'then one needs a partner to share one's intellectual pursuits.'

'I hope when Olivia and I have been married as long is you that we'll be as happy. You and Kate seem to have the ideal marriage - even without children.'

Conan considered for a moment before replying. 'Can't say it hasn't been difficult. Wanting children as we did. Sex without them, quite frankly, grows a little stale. I only wish she was stronger so that we might enjoy other activities.'

He paused before continuing. 'As regards intellect: plenty of men in our position in society would laugh you to scorn. They regard wives as breeding machines and when that's finished they're quite happy to take a mistress.'

Vince looked to where his wife and Kate were helping Jamie roll a snowball along the edge of the loch. Still very much in love, Vince found it incredible to envisage a day when he might wake up to find love turned sour and desire turned stale.

BOOK: The Coffin Lane Murders
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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