Authors: Christopher Brookmyre
Chris Brookmyre has won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction, the Critics’ First Blood Award for Best First Crime Novel of the Year, and two Sherlock awards. In 2007, Chris was given the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Award for Writing. He lives in Glasgow with his family.
QUITE UGLY ONE MORNING
COUNTRY OF THE BLIND
NOT THE END OF THE WORLD
ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
BOILING A FROG
A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY
THE SACRED ART OF STEALING
BE MY ENEMY
ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEBODY LOSES AN EYE
A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL
ATTACK OF THE UNSINKABLE RUBBER DUCKS
A SNOWBALL IN HELL
WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED
Published by Hachette Digital
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 Christopher Brookmyre
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
For Greg Dulli
I took her life.
I cannot deny it, never have done, at least not to myself. Beneath a vast, black, star-spattered Highland sky, with our colleagues, our friends oblivious in the great house near by, I took her life.
I took her life, and my life was the better for her death. That is undeniable also; unpalatable, perhaps, an ugly truth but a truth just the same.
I have lived with this for three decades. I will not lie and claim not a day goes by that I don’t see her face; that may have been true once, during those first months, even first years, but in time the intervals between my recollections became greater, the fear incrementally diminished, the guilt more dilute. I can still see her now though, as vividly as on that night. I can still picture her face vibrantly alive, filled with colour and expression; and I can picture it blank and empty and drained, like a reflection of the full moon above. My memory of her is not faded, only stored away like the scene paintings from a struck set. Every so often something inside me calls for a revival.
No stage illusion, no theatrical artifice, no trick blood would ever look convincing enough to me again. That night I learned what death truly looked like.
I can still see the pale skin of her arms and legs in that short-sleeved dress, her limbs folded awkwardly about her where she lay, like a ventriloquist’s dummy or a marionette, a doll’s eyes locked forever in a glassy stare. It was not a stare that accused. It stared past me, focused on a place no longer in the same world as the one I inhabited.
She lay in the soft earth, the moon shining down to dimly light her funeral procession, trees her pall-bearers, the eyes of timid, fearful
creatures blinking unseen as they bore witness (and one of those timid, fearful, unseen creatures would turn out to be human).
No words were spoken over her grave, no tributes and no tears. It was solemn, however, and silent.
I could hear music coming from the house. It sounded distant, disconnected from this place I was standing, an island in time where no one yet knew what had happened. And yet it was so close. All it would take was someone to come looking for me, for her, and that island would be engulfed. I had the chance to maintain that disconnection, but as it carried on the night air, the music reminded me that I had to act fast and remain resolute.
They say that justice, like love, is blind. I knew that I must deny both. She would not have justice. I would not have love. But for all that, I would live free. I would not spend my best years in prison as the price of one moment of desperation.
I knew the decision I was making, and I’ll tell you now that I would make it again. For all my guilt, from which I have never been free, I know that my life – and more importantly, my future family’s lives – were served better by my actions than any notion of ‘justice’ would have been served by the truth.
Each death changes the world. Not so much as each birth, true, but certain deaths change the world more than others. This death changed so many worlds, so many lives. At the time I saw only how it would change my own, but the roots and tendrils already intertwined between so many of us – though some of us had known each other mere weeks – meant that we would all be in some way transformed.
Ibsen said that ‘to be oneself is to kill oneself’. He meant that in order to truly become who you are, you must first kill off all the other possible selves you might be. If you don’t you become as Peer Gynt, like an onion, each layer peeling away to reveal another, but with ultimately nothing at its centre. None of us finds who we really are without sacrificing those other selves and cauterising the stumps where we severed the dreams that held them in place.
Sometimes we kill off those other selves, and sometimes they are killed for us.
A young woman’s life ended that night:
the selves she would ever be, and that is something I have never allowed myself to lose sight of. But so many other lives ended too: lives we might all have led, different people we might all have become, had that night played out differently. How many of us would go back and change it, though? There’s a question.
We were all transformed, for better or worse. Some of those transformations took time, but the greatest of them were instantaneous. Life into death; human into animal; morality into sheer instinct: how much can change irrevocably in a twinkling. Hers was the worst change, of course, the most horrifying, not only to the hands that wrought it and the eyes that saw, but to anybody. How could she, how could any of us, be in one moment a human being – animate, warm, alert, responsive, infinite entities impossibly contained within a single form – and then in the next merely a discarded vessel, all those things it carried irretrievably lost?
And what is changed in the person who did this? Is he made something different by the act, or first made something different before he can commit it? Perhaps it is both. Either way, I knew that in killing I had been altered by the deed, but on that night saw a chance to prevent myself becoming the deed’s creature.
I took her life, covered up her murder and left everyone else to live their transformed lives beneath the slowly corrosive drip of unanswered questions. I left suspicion and bitterness, anger and blame, the hollow ache of absence and the gnawing agony of not knowing. For doing that, I feel regret and I feel remorse, but I feel no guilt. My guilt I reserve only for her.
I don’t like to consider how much the others would hate me if they learned the truth, but deep down they must all know that the blame is not for me alone to carry.
I was not the only sinner among us, and far from the worst.
Good things come to those who wait, Jasmine thought to herself. It had been a long time coming, and the road had been neither straight nor smooth, but after all these years she finally had an acting job in theatre.
Jasmine had wanted to be an actress since she was six years old. She knew the age exactly because she could pinpoint the precise moment – or at least the precise evening – when this ambition had taken hold. Her mum had taken her to the theatre from the age of roughly three and a half, from Christmas pantomimes at the King’s to children’s plays at the Traverse, some of which were interactive to the point of almost functioning as crèches. She preferred the pantos inasmuch as she preferred anything that took place under a proscenium arch, before circles and balconies, an orchestra pit and ladies selling ice cream. Even when Mum took her to a kids’ matinee performance of
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
featuring a cast of three and providing an early introduction to minimalism in terms of costume and production design, the fact that it took place at the Festival Theatre on Nicholson Street made it a spectacle in itself. Though the steeply towering layers of seating were spookily empty and the actors all but lost upon such a great wide stage, it felt more like a proper show than anything she had been sat in front of at any of the city’s more intimate venues.
She preferred it to her early experiences of the cinema too, which had been divided between the plasticky sterility of the multiplex at Newcraighall and the sticky-carpeted gloomy auditoria to be found in the city centre. At that tender age, however, these theatrical spectacles didn’t make her dream of treading the boards any more than the films she saw made her imagine life as a movie star.
Her epiphany came when she was taken to see a production of
Juno and the Paycock
at the Lyceum. It would be redundant to state that this was not really a production aimed at six-year-olds, but in a way that itself was the catalyst. Her mum was supposed to be going to see it alone, before meeting up with some friends she had in the cast and crew for a late supper. For a single mother with a full-time job, it was a rare and relished opportunity for an adult night out, but unfortunately the babysitter phoned to cancel less than an hour before she was due to turn up.
Her mum instantly accepted that her late supper was now a write-off, but dearly wanted to see the play. She elicited from her daughter sincere vows of good behaviour, balancing her solemn homilies about the importance of sitting quietly in her seat with promised rewards of ice cream at the interval and chips on the way home. Jasmine, in her ignorance, didn’t understand why her mum had such anxious reservations, never having sat through anything that wasn’t punctuated by singalong musical numbers and the tossing of bags of sweets into the audience.
In the event, Jasmine’s vows were never put to the test, as Mum bumped into her friend Kirsten front of house as she queued at the box office, intending to return her single seat in the stalls for two together wherever might be left. Railroading through Mum’s typical reluctance to inconvenience anybody or accept unearned favours, Kirsten escorted them backstage, where she said Mum could watch the performance from the wings, and where Jasmine might be found various things to amuse herself, to say nothing of being relieved of the requirement to sit still for the best part of three hours.
Jasmine thought Kirsten must be the head of the ushers, as not only was she allowed to go anywhere in the theatre, but she evidently had the power to grant Jasmine and her mum any seat they liked, even special ones to the side of the scenery. Jasmine learned later that Kirsten was actually ‘the director’ of the play, though it was several more years still before she had any understanding of what this meant.
Jasmine was brought a drink with a straw, a bag of sweets and a pad and pencils for drawing and colouring, and told she could play on the floor by her mum’s feet as long as she remained quiet and didn’t stray past a line on the floor marked out in yellow tape.