New York Times bestselling author Ian Rankin returns to his legendary detective—it’s not the first time Rebus has taken the law into his own hands, though it may be the last.John Rebus stands accused: on trial for a crime that could put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
But what drove a good man to cross the line?
Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke may well find out. Clarke is tasked with the city’s most explosive case in years, an infamous cop, at the center of decades of misconduct, has gone missing. Finding him will expose not only her superiors, but her mentor John Rebus. And Rebus himself may not have her own interests at heart, as the repayment of a past debt places him in the crosshairs of both crime lords and his police brethren.
One way or another, a reckoning is coming – and John Rebus may be hearing the call for last orders…
Release date: October 18, 2022
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (October 18, 2022)
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A Heart Full of Headstones
John Rebus had been in court plenty of times, but this was his first time in the dock. As the charge was being read out for the jury’s benefit, he took it all in. Things hadn’t yet recovered from COVID. Apart from the judge and Rebus, everyone was masked, and there were cameras and monitors everywhere. The jury were being housed elsewhere – a cinema on Lothian Road – as a health precaution. He could see them courtesy of one of the large monitors, just as they could see him.
He tried to remember his first time giving evidence in a case, but couldn’t. It would have been the 1970s, not quite half a century ago. The lawyers, court officials and judge had probably looked much the same. Today Rebus was flanked by two uniformed guards, as would have been the case back then. He’d been in the witness box once when the accused had tried barging his way out of the dock to have a go at him, one of the guards hauling him back. What was the accused’s name? Short and skinny, with curly hair. Began with an M, maybe. Ach, everybody’s memory started going eventually, didn’t it? It wasn’t just him. An age thing, like the COPD that meant he was allowed to keep an inhaler in his pocket along with his face mask.
He wondered how his dog was doing. His daughter, Samantha, had taken Brillo to hers. Rebus’s granddaughter doted on the mutt. He was glad the public gallery was empty – meant he hadn’t had to fight with Sam to stop her attending. There was a simplicity to life in custody. Other people took the decisions for you. He didn’t have to think about meals or dog walks or what to do with his day. Being an ex-cop, he even found himself popular with the prison guards. They liked to linger in his cell, sharing stories. They kept an eye open, too – not everyone inside would have his best interests at heart, which was why he had the luxury of unshared accommodation, even as HMP Edinburgh was bursting at the seams. Not that anyone outside of a few pen-pushers referred to it as HMP Edinburgh – it was Saughton, sited at the westernmost end of Gorgie Road. If you headed into town from there, you soon passed the Hearts football stadium and then Tynecastle police station. In a roundabout way, it was the latter that had brought Rebus here.
Malone, that was the skinny guy’s name. A career housebreaker who didn’t at all mind terrorising any occupants he found on the premises. One of his victims had suffered a coronary and died on the spot, which was why Rebus had made sure Malone wouldn’t get away with it. That had entailed a bit of embroidery from the witness box, which was what had caused Malone to fly into a rage – and that never looked good to a jury. Rebus had tried to look shaken by the outburst. The judge had asked if he needed a minute.
‘Maybe a glass of water, Your Honour,’ Rebus had said, trying to summon up a few beads of nervous sweat. All of this while Malone was being taken from the courtroom, cursing Rebus and his corrupt kind to the rafters.
‘The jury will ignore what they’ve just heard from the accused,’ the judge intoned. Then, to the advocate depute, ‘You may continue, if Detective Inspector Rebus is ready.’
Detective Inspector Rebus was ready.
He tried to recall the first time he’d set foot in Tynecastle cop shop. Would he have been a DI or a detective sergeant? Probably a DS. He had never been based there himself, though for a time he’d worked out of nearby Torphichen. But Torphichen was practically Edinburgh’s salubrious West End. Tynecastle – Tynie to those acquainted with it – was a tougher proposition altogether. Rebus reckoned there was a thesis to be written about the proximity of football grounds to areas of high deprivation. The land around Tynecastle stadium comprised tenements mostly, separated by wasteland and industrial units. Further west the tenements gave way to estates such as Burnhill, with its ugly concrete blocks from the 1960s and ’70s, whose condensation-heavy windows resembled cataracts in a crumbling face. For at least some of the people who lived their lives there, allegiance to the local football team provided distraction and even occasionally an all-too-brief euphoria.
Not that Rebus had ever followed any one team.
‘Come on, John,’ he’d often been teased, ‘Hearts or Hibs, it must be one or the other.’ To which he would always shake his head, just as he found himself shaking his head now as he happened to catch a few of the clerk’s words. Seemed to be taking for ever to get through the charge sheet.
‘You are indicted at the instance of… and the charge against you is that you did… on the fifteenth of… at… against… and did…’
Rebus was trying not to let the jury know he was absolutely aware of them. He knew which camera was trained on him and his eyes never met it. The polished wood of the courtroom; the slate-coloured carpet; the little ledge on which he could rest his hands – these were his apparent focus. Then there was the witness box. A screen stood near it – not a TV monitor, but an actual physical screen so that a witness could testify without eye contact being possible with the defendant. The whole thing was on wheels so it could be rolled into position as and when needed, rolled up the temporary ramp…
Hang on, why had it gone quiet?
Rebus looked to the judge, who was staring at his QC. The clerk of court was staring too, from above the charge sheet.
‘Apologies, Your Honour,’ the QC said, rifling through his papers.
The clerk gave a theatrical sigh. The whole thing was bloody theatre, something Rebus had come to realise all those decades back. Well, theatre to the various professions involved anyway. Anything but theatre to everyone else.
‘This is the point in proceedings where you inform of us how the accused intends to plead,’ the judge admonished the QC.
Rebus glanced towards his defence team – senior counsel and junior counsel in their daft wee wigs, solicitor in a dark buttoned-up suit. Senior counsel wore a gown of silk and a piece of neckwear Rebus now knew was called a fall, though no one seemed to know why. They looked to him like the relative strangers they were, though he’d met them often these past few weeks and days. Junior counsel’s face was impassive, probably thinking about the shopping she had to do on the way home or the games kit to get ready for her kid’s next day at school.
‘Mr Bartleby?’ the judge prompted. Rebus liked the look of the judge. He seemed the type who’d pour you the good whisky, no matter who you were. The senior counsel was giving a nod, satisfied with whatever he’d been checking.
He licked his lips.
Rebus couldn’t help but mimic him, drawing in a lungful of sweet Edinburgh air…
The pubs were opening again, and this time without the need to sign in and order from your table. Standing at a bar seemed a novelty, though you were aware of the bottle of hand sanitiser on the corner or over by the door, and the track-and-trace QR code or the old-fashioned clipboard on which you scrawled a name – any name, and contact number – any number. Rebus still hadn’t a clue how the QR code worked. Now and again a savvier customer or one of the bar staff would try showing him, but the information was like a stone skimming across the surface of his brain, soon sinking, never to be retrieved.
The pub he was in today was on Brougham Place. He had walked Brillo across Bruntsfield Links in low winter sun, dog and owner casting long shadows. There was the usual traffic on Melville Drive and plenty of students using the footpaths. He supposed the university was back in business. Things had been very quiet for a while, Rebus confined to barracks with his COPD until the vaccine programme kicked in. But now he was a free man, and boosted to boot. No more distanced meetings with his daughter and granddaughter, them one side of the garden gate and him the other, shopping left outside the door for him to collect. People could go about their lives again. He could give Samantha and Carrie a hug, though he sensed a reticence still in his granddaughter, who was yet to be jabbed. Were things really getting back to normal, or was there no longer any normal for them to get back to? The drinkers in today’s pub still slipped their masks back on if they wanted to move about the place. They still twitched if anyone had a sudden coughing fit. Lockdown had offered Rebus the perfect excuse not to try seeing his doctor about the dizzy spells and chest pain. Maybe he’d do something about that now.
For the present, he contented himself with the evening paper. There was a story about local businesses on the Royal Mile that felt under siege, shoplifters and addicts menacing them and taking from them with seeming impunity. Meanwhile in West Lothian a car had been vandalised with acid and a nearby house attacked with a petrol bomb. Rebus knew that probably meant a gang feud. Not that it was any of his business, not any more. When his phone pinged, a drinker at the next table visibly flinched. Rebus gave a slow shake of the head to reassure the man that it was just a normal text rather than a COVID alert. But when he checked his screen, he realised it was anything but normal, insofar as it was from a man called Cafferty. Morris Gerald Cafferty, known as Big Ger.
You not out with the dog?
Rebus thought about ignoring the question, but he doubted Cafferty would give up.
Yes, was his one-word reply. Cafferty’s response was immediate.
How come I can’t see you?
Are you on some sort of miser’s contract that means you can only type three-letter texts?
Rebus waited, took a sip from his pint, and waited some more. Brillo was curled at his feet, not asleep but doing a passable impression. Rebus rested his phone on the table and swirled the contents of his glass, renewing its foamy head. He’d been told once that he shouldn’t do that, but he couldn’t remember why.
Ping. I need to see you.
Ping. Come to the flat.
Ping. No rush. The next hour will do. Finish your drink and take the dog home.
He debated how to answer. Did he even need to? No, because he was going to go, and Cafferty knew he would. He would go because he was curious – curious about all sorts of things. He would go because they had history.
On the other hand, he didn’t want to look too keen. So instead he slipped his mask on, walked to the bar and ordered another pint.
Cafferty’s home was a three-storey penthouse in a glass tower on a development known as Quartermile. It had been the site of Edinburgh’s old infirmary, and the original renovated buildings nestled between steel-and-glass newcomers. Rebus’s own home was a ground-floor tenement flat on a quiet street in Marchmont, only a ten-minute walk away. The two were separated by Melville Drive. On Rebus’s side sat Bruntsfield Links, where pitch-and-putt was played in summer months. On Cafferty’s side sat a large grassy area known as the Meadows. There were usually plenty of joggers, cyclists and dog-walkers making use of the space. Rebus had to avoid a few as he walked towards Quartermile. He wondered if Cafferty was watching his approach. On the off chance, he offered a two-fingered salute in the building’s general direction, earning him a quizzical look from a young couple seated on a nearby bench.
He paused for a moment outside the door to Cafferty’s building, wishing he still smoked. A cigarette would have given him a reasonable excuse to delay entering. Instead of which, he pressed the buzzer. The door clicked open, the lift taking him up eight storeys to the top. The landing here led to just the one door. It had already been opened. A well-built young man was scooping up the mail that had obviously been pushed through the letter box earlier. He was fair-haired and had a build toned by regular visits to the gym. He sported what looked like a Fitbit on his left wrist. No actual watch and no rings.
‘Who are you then?’ Rebus enquired.
‘Mr Cafferty’s personal assistant.’
‘Must be some job that, wiping his arse as and when. I know the way.’ Rebus snatched the mail from the man’s hand. He’d taken no more than two steps down the hall when a strong grip on his shoulder pulled him up.
‘Need to pat you down.’
‘You’re joking, aren’t you?’ But it was clear from the look on the young man’s face that he wasn’t. Rebus managed a sigh as he unzipped his padded jacket. ‘You know I was invited here, right? Making me a guest rather than a really shite ninja?’
The hands went around Rebus’s ribs, up under his arms and down his back. When the man crouched to check the legs of his trousers, Rebus had a mind to plant a knee in his face, but he reckoned there might be consequences.
‘I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did,’ he said as the man rose to his full height again. Instead of replying, the assistant grabbed the letters Rebus had taken from him, then led the way into the flat’s cavernous open-plan living area.
Rebus noted that the staircase had had a stairlift fitted, but otherwise the place was as he remembered it. Cafferty was in an electric wheelchair over by the floor-to-ceiling windows. There was a telescope there on a lowered tripod, just the right height for someone seated.
‘I suppose you have to get your kicks somehow,’ Rebus commented.
Cafferty half turned his head and offered a thin smile. He had lost some weight and there was an unhealthy pallor to his face. The eyes were still the same steely orbs, though, the large clenched fists a reminder of past, bruising endeavours.
‘No flowers or chocolates?’ he asked, looking Rebus up and down.
‘I’ve a dozen white lilies ordered for when the time comes.’ Rebus pretended to be interested in the view across The Meadows to the chimneypots of Marchmont. ‘They still haven’t found him, have they?’ he mused. ‘The guy who shot you? Thinking is, they never will.’
‘Andrew, get John here a drink, will you? Maybe some coffee to counteract the alcohol?’
‘What’s the point of alcohol if you counteract it?’
‘A whisky, then? I don’t have any beer.’
‘I don’t need anything, other than to know what I’m doing here.’
Cafferty stared at him. ‘It’s good to see you too.’ He turned the wheelchair and aimed it at the long glass coffee table across the room, at the same time gesturing to Andrew that he should leave.
‘Which is he, carer or bodyguard?’ Rebus asked as he followed.
Cafferty gestured towards the cream leather sofa and Rebus lowered himself onto it, moving a large cushion emblazoned with a saltire out of the way. The only thing on the table was the mail Andrew had placed there. Cafferty’s gaze settled on him.
‘How about you?’ he enquired. ‘Did you have a good pandemic?’
‘I appear to have survived.’
‘Sums up the pair of us, wouldn’t you say? On the other hand, you probably feel it as much as I do.’
‘Mortality, chapping at the door.’ To reinforce the point, Cafferty rapped the knuckles of his left hand against the arm of his wheelchair.
‘Life isn’t cheery, though, is it? We both learned that lesson long ago. And stuck here during COVID, there wasn’t a hell of a lot to do except…’ Cafferty tapped his forehead.
‘If you’d asked, I’d have let you borrow a jigsaw.’
Cafferty gave a slow shake of the head. ‘You forget that I know you. You’re telling me you sat for weeks on end in that flat of yours, that living room, that head of yours, and didn’t brood? What else would you do?’
‘I had a dog that needed walking.’
‘And you had your daughter and granddaughter take it for those walks – I saw them.’ He jerked his head towards the telescope. ‘And Siobhan Clarke too, sometimes. She could never get within a hundred yards of here without staring up. Staring, mind, not…’ He raised two fingers towards Rebus.
‘If you could maybe get to the point while there’s still a bit of light in the sky.’
‘The point is…’ Cafferty sucked in some air and expelled it noisily. ‘I’ve had nothing to do but think back on things I’ve done, people I’ve done them to. Not all of it strictly merited.’
Rebus held up a hand, palm towards Cafferty. ‘I no longer take confession. Siobhan’s the one you need to talk to.’
‘Not for this,’ Cafferty said quietly. ‘Not for this.’ He leaned forward in his chair. ‘You remember Jack Oram?’
It took Rebus a few moments, Cafferty staying silent, content to let the synapses do their slow-grinding work.
‘Another of your legion of the disappeared,’ Rebus eventually stated. ‘What was the name of his place – the Potter’s Bar?’
‘I knew you’d remember.’
‘A pool hall where a cue could come in handy in more than one way. Oram’s name above the door but profits accruing to the man I’m looking at right now. Oram starts skimming and pretty soon he needs more than a pool cue to save him.’
‘I didn’t touch him.’
‘Of course you didn’t.’
‘He ran before I could. Turned into a missing person case. I’ve half an idea your old pal Siobhan worked on it.’
‘So I hear he’s back in town.’
Rebus gave a grunt. ‘What are you going to do, have Andrew pat him down with a bit more malice?’
‘I want to say sorry to the guy,’ Cafferty stated solemnly.
Rebus made show of cupping a hand to one ear. ‘I must have misheard.’
‘I’m serious. Yes, he took what wasn’t his, and, yes, he ran. He’s been laying low the past four years, doubtless scared shitless. Probably only came back because he heard about this.’ Cafferty thumped the arm of his wheelchair again.
‘I’m still not sure I get it.’
‘That’s because you don’t know what he needed the money for. His brother, Paul, died of cancer. Left a wife, two kids and precious little in the bank. Jack wanted to help, whatever it took.’
‘Are you asking me to believe you’ve suddenly grown a conscience?’
‘I just want to tell him to his face that I’m sorry for what happened.’
‘So have your gofer go fetch him.’
‘I could do that, but seeing how you’re to blame for what happened to him…’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Four and a bit years back, you were drinking in some pub, got chatting to a guy called Eric Linn. Ring a bell?’
‘I’ve met a lot of people in a lot of pubs.’
‘The two of you had a mutual acquaintance, Albert Cousins, snitch of yours from back in the day. Linn asked if you still saw him. You said no, but you’d heard he was losing a bit too much at after-hours poker games in the Potter’s Bar.’ Cafferty broke off. ‘Anything?’
‘Well, Eric knew I had a stake in the bar and he reckoned I might be interested, which I was, because nobody had thought to tell me about these wee sessions. Jack Oram had been holding back, not cutting me in. That got me doing some digging, and it started to look a lot like he’d been skimming from the pool hall, too. Lucky for him, he got wind I’d be wanting a word.’ Cafferty paused again. ‘All because your mouth got a bit slack in a bar one night.’
Rebus was silent for a moment. It was true about Albert Cousins and his gambling. Rebus couldn’t have known not to mention it in conversation. All the same…
‘Neither have I.’
‘But you still know your way around, and you’ve got time on your hands.’
‘I’m a bit long in the tooth to play Humphrey Bogart.’ Rebus got to his feet and retraced his steps to the window. He heard the whirr of the wheelchair’s motor as Cafferty followed him.
‘I’m on the way out,’ Cafferty said quietly. ‘You noticed as soon as you walked in here. Those bullets did too much damage.’ He suddenly looked tired. ‘I just feel bad about Oram. I can’t explain it exactly, why him and none of the others. And there’s money in it, of course.’ He was gesturing towards a wall unit. ‘Envelope there with some cash in it. You wouldn’t be Humphrey Bogart if you didn’t take it.’
‘Any chance of a femme fatale on the side?’
‘No promises, but who knows what you’ll turn up. It’s got to be better than festering in that flat of yours.’
‘I’m halfway through another jigsaw, though. Sergeant Pepper, a thousand pieces.’
‘It’ll still be there.’
Rebus turned and leaned in towards the seated figure. ‘Whatever happened to Oram, I’m not to blame – you are. You’d have found out eventually, one way or another. Plenty chancers out there who’d be happy to track him down for you.’
‘I don’t want just any chancer, though – I want the biggest.’
Rebus gave a thin smile, almost despite himself. ‘So what have you got, apart from his name?’
‘Could be he’s using an alias – I would, in his shoes. Last sighting was near Gracemount a few weeks back.’
‘A lovely spot for an ex-cop to go walkabout. Is this you trying to get me bushwhacked?’
‘He was coming out of a lettings agency on Lasswade Road.’
‘Didn’t you used to own a lettings agency?’
Cafferty nodded. ‘It changed hands a few years back.’
‘And that’s his last sighting – a lettings office that used to be in your name?’
Cafferty offered a slow shrug. ‘I know you’d rather it was a Hollywood mogul’s house, but that’s all I can offer.’
‘I’ll think about it,’ he said, walking towards the door.
Cafferty stayed facing the window. In around five minutes, he could place his eye to the telescope and watch Rebus heading back across the Meadows. He heard the front door close and sensed Andrew behind him, awaiting instructions.
‘Tea, I think,’ he said. ‘Builder’s strength.’
‘I didn’t like him,’ Andrew commented.
‘You’re a good judge of character. But then you probably wouldn’t like me either if I wasn’t paying for the privilege. Though with what you’re learning, maybe I should be charging tuition fees.’
Cafferty manoeuvred his wheelchair towards the wall unit. Rebus had taken the envelope, of course he had. Satisfied, he moved to the coffee table, reaching forward to sift through the mail. There was an A4-sized envelope with familiar lettering in the top left corner: MGC Lettings. The cheapskate bastards were still using his personalised stationery.
‘Hell is this?’ he muttered, opening the flap. There was a single sheet of paper inside, a printout of a grainy photograph. The profile of a man, taken through the doorway of a living room. Cafferty checked. Nothing on the back of the photo and nothing else in the envelope.
Andrew was standing behind him. ‘Who’s that?’ he enquired.
‘Not the faintest fucking idea,’ Cafferty said. And he meant it. He didn’t recognise the man at all.
The living room, though… Well, that was another matter entirely.
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